Saturday, 28 March 2015

Rodrigues 2015

Rodrigues has not changed much in nine years since my last visit. The people are just as friendly, there's maybe just a few more cars on the road and houses, but that's it. This year's visit was essentially for scuba-diving, but as the dive centre closes on Saturdays (market day in the capital, Port Mathurin) we hired a car and headed out and about.

view of Port Mathurin

The island, which has a population of about 40 000 inhabitants, belongs to Mauritius and is ≈600 km to its north east. Its surface area is 108 km2, it is 18km long by 8 km wide, and the highest point is only 355m.

unidentified bird seen at Port Mathurin

Rodrigues has two 'claims to fame' - it is the part of Africa closest to Australia, and it is the furthest place where the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was heard.

boats, Port Mathurin

After visiting the market we headed to the François Leguat reserve in the island's southwest, near the airport. The reserve is a conservation project that was started in 2007 by a zoologist whose dream was to recreate the fauna and flora as it was when the first settlers arrived in Rodrigues. In 1691 François Leguat wrote that there were so many tortoises on Rodrigues that 'one can take more than a hundred steps on their shell without touching the ground'. The 300,000 giant tortoises were exploited for their meat and oil by the sailors and thus became extinct, but similar species have been re-introduced to the reserve and they can now be seen during the visit. Thus the domed Rodrigues giant tortoise and the saddle-backed Rodrigues giant tortoise have been replaced by the Radiated tortoise and Aldabra giant tortoise respectively.

An Aldabra giant tortoise 

The breeding programme has been successful and there are currently 2564 tortoises of both species! Radiated tortoises, having been introduced to Réunion, are fairly common there so I  more was interested in seeing the adult Aldabra giant tortoises which roam all over a large canyon in the reserve.

view of part of the canyon 
The reserve's oldest tortoise (left) and heaviest (right)

So as to re-create the fauna more than 130,000 endemic and native plants have been planted: some virtually extinct in the wild and many quite rare otherwise.

Bats are the only mammals found naturally in the Mascarene islands.  The Rodrigues fruit bat was described in 1970s at the rarest bat in the world, with only 70-100 individuals, but the population has now grown to 5,000 as forest cover has increased. They are important pollinators and seed dispersers of native trees as well as exotic fruit  trees. At the reserve they can be seen in an enclosure.

The giant fruit bat is Rodrigues' only endemic mammal

The second (optional) part of the visit is to Grande Caverne, whose name means 'Large Cave', but which is actually somewhat smaller than Caverne Patate that we visited in 2006. There is actually a network of eleven caves extending below the reserve, but only Grande Caverne, the largest at 500m in length, is open to visitors. 

Inside Grande Caverne

Inside Grande Caverne

Equipped with a hardhat, you are taken on a guided tour along specially-designed boardwalks with handrails and lighting which illuminates stalactites and stalagmites formed over thousands of years.

The well-informed tour guides point out quirky rock shapes and discuss the island's interesting geological history. Unlike the other islands in the Mascarenes which are composed of volcanic basalt, Rodrigues has a limestone platea, known as Plaine Corail.

King Kong?

The reserve also has its own museum, a small souvenir shop and a café.

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