By Tandi Glaser
Moslih Eddin Saadi, famed medieval Persian poet, once said “A traveler without observation is like a bird without wings.”
How right Saadi was, as this was exactly how I felt before embarking on a two-week adventure on the island of Mauritius. A passionate bird lover honored with their presence in my life from birth, I thought I had already earned my wings. Well, Mauritian birds taught me I had more to observe and learn. Only after some fascinating lessons from Mauritian birds — the Mauritius Kestrel, the Pink Pigeon, the Echo Parakeet, and the Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher, could I receive beautiful plumage of my own. Boy oh boy, but I was determined to be a beautiful Mauritian bird!
Flight School 101 started with Mauritian bird evolution. Sadly, only nine endemic species currently survive, and, with exception of one, all are threatened. This makes the conservation work of organisations such as the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Ebony Forest Reserve all the more critical. It is through their preservation efforts that the populations may recover.
Dear BirbObserver followers, even I needed educating on the difference between endemic and native. Endemic means that a species inhabits only that specific territory or region in which you find it, and that it arrived there unaided by humans. Native, on the other hand, means that, while the species also arrived before humans, it can also be found in other regions.
It was a privilege to see the endemic Mauritius Kestrel at Casela (an animal amusement park) in the Black River Gorges National Park. In 1974 there were only four survivors. Now there are about 500-600. The Mauritius Kestrel is a carnivorous bird of prey which feasts on geckos, insects (eww!) and small birds. The story of this powerful survivor is considered to be one of the most successful conservation and restoration projects in the world and through our contributions the Mauritius Kestrel can continue to survive and thrive.
Can you believe that there are Pink Pigeons?? Well, there are, and they too are endemic and endangered, with approximately only 400 currently surviving due to the deforestation of their native habitat and the decimation of natural predators such as rats and monkeys. Pink Pigeons love to feast on fruits, leaves and seeds of plants so this makes them herbivores. As of 2016, there are five places on the island where wild populations of the Pink Pigeon can be sighted. Four of these locations belong to the Black River Gorges National Park and the fifth to Isle aux Aigrettes. All are closely monitored by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. It is the hope of the MWF to meet their target of 600 wild living Pink Pigeons one day and once again, a call to action through public donations is requested. Conservationists couldn’t agree more with the urgent request.
Two endemic birds, the Echo Parakeet and the Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher, could not be viewed in the National Park due to their endangered and vulnerable statuses. Embarrassingly I might add, even I confused an Echo Parakeet with an Indian Ringneck at a shopping mall and loudly screeched my excitement to my fiancé, neglecting to pause and ask myself why an endangered species would be found at a mall. Thanks to Christabelle Duhamel of Ebony Forest Reserve, I learned the difference between the two species: the Ringneck is of Asian origins (whereas the Echo Parakeet is endemic to Mauritius). I do hope again to see an Echo Parakeet in my lifetime.
I hope you have learned something from me. Please don’t hesitate to explore Mauritius birds further on your own and ask me questions, as I could always ask the lovely conservationists I met there to answer and get back to me. They’re eager to educate us all about the birbs and how we can help.
All in all, I believe that thanks to observation and research, I left Mauritius an honorary and beautifully plumaged and flighted birb.
For more information, please go to the following links:
Twitter: @mwfWildlife and @Eforestofficial
Facebook: /MauritianWildlife and www.facebook.com/MauritianWildlife