Feature: The Wildlife of Île aux Aigrettes
In 1985, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation took out a lease on Île aux Aigrettes and began the difficult task of ridding it of introduced plants and animals, including rats and feral cats. It also began a massive planting program, removing introduced species and reintroducing native plants. Until the foundation began its work, the island was a popular place for day trips and most native plant species had been cut down for firewood. One exception was a small but significant stand of ebony forest. The forest survives, including some trees that may be 400 years old, and most guided tours pass through it.
The foundation was able to bring some of the most endangered species in Mauritius to the island in the hope that they would find refuge and breed in a suitable natural habitat free from predators. Along with other sites, such as Round Island (off the north coast) and Black River Gorges National Park (in the southwest), the island has become a bulwark against extinction, not to mention a stunning conservation success story. Île aux Aigrettes is now home to around 30 pink pigeons (out of just 470 left in the wild today), 55 olive white-eye pairs (out of 100 to 150 pairs) and 450 Mauritian fodies (out of 800). On most guided visits there's a good chance of seeing the pink pigeon, but you'll need luck to see the other species.
Interestingly, not all endangered species made it here – the Mauritian kestrel was introduced but didn't find the habitat to be suitable (the canopy was too low and there was not enough prey), and so the birds crossed the water and found more suitable habitats on the main island, including Black River Gorges National Park and nearby Vallée de Ferney.
Other stars of the show include around 20 adult Aldabra or Seychelles tortoises (as well as a number of young), the last of the giant Indian Ocean tortoise species. This is the only place in Mauritius to see these soulful creatures in the wild. Note also the five or so caged (and endangered) Mauritian fruit bats and around 450 Telfair's skinks (important competitors for the introduced – and undesirable – Indian shrews, the only remaining mammal species on Île aux Aigrettes).