EXTANT

Surviving compatriots of the dodo

The island of Mauritius is part of the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands biodiversity hotspot. A high percentage of the Mauritian native flora and fauna are unique to its territory, with some species even being found only on small islets off its coast.

Following the first human settlement in early 17th century and increasing human activities on the island, a rapid loss and degradation of the pristine forests occurred. And today less than 2% of native forest remains.

Deforestation in Mauritius over time (Source: Vaughan and Wiehe, 1937; Page and D'Argent, 1997)

Deforestation in Mauritius over time (Source: Vaughan and Wiehe, 1937; Page and D'Argent, 1997)

Deforestation combined with the introduction of non-native animals and plants have contributed to the demise of many unique species alongside the famous dodo.

Reported extinction rate of native species for different groups (Source: Florens, 2013)

Reported extinction rate of native species for different groups (Source: Florens, 2013)

Despite the numerous species lost and current high level of endangerment, particularly for the native flora , Mauritian biodiversity have high conservation value and holds several treasures constituting the country’s natural heritage.

So meet five extant (i.e. still existing) representatives of different groups of our native flora and fauna.

1. PLANTS

As of 2013, 691 native species of flowering plants were recorded for Mauritius. Of these 39.5 % were documented as being Mauritian endemic (i.e. found only in Mauritius). Through the work of the Mauritius herbarium and the University of Mauritius, this list is being updated as new species are described, rediscovered after being thought to be extinct and more informaton are gathered on the geographical range of some species.

Roussea simplex is a climbing shrub species found only in Mauritius. Once widespread, it is now restricted to nine populations on mountain ridges and in upland forests. It is estimated that there are about 250 mature individuals but invasive plants present a serious threat to the survival of this species.

2. BATS

Bats are the only native mammals found in Mauritius. Five species of native bats used to coexist on mainland Mauritius. One of these species, the Rodrigues Flying Fox is now locally extinct and as the name implies, it is now restricted to Rodrigues island, some 560 Km east of Mauritius. The Lesser Mascarene Flying-fox (Pteropus subniger) is on the other hand, a species that is now gone forever. Remaining native bat species in Mauritius include two insectivorous species and the Mauritian flying fox also known as the Mauritius fruit bat.

The Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger) is an endangered species mostly restricted to Mauritius. It is the last surviving species of frugivorous bats in Mauritius and plays an essential role in dispersing the seeds of native trees, and thus contributing to the regeneration of native forests.

Photo by Jacques de Speville

Photo by Jacques de Speville

3. LAND BIRDS

Mauritian endemic birds are probably the most globally known component of the Mauritian biodiversity. After all, the flightless dodo is the global symbol of extinction. Species like the Mauritius Kestrel, the Pink Pigeon and the Echo Parakeet were at the brink of extinction several decades ago, but showed important population recovery following intensive species management.

The Mauritius Kestrel (Falco punctatus) was down to only four individuals in the wild in 1974 due to deforestation and the use of organochlorine pesticides. Through captive breeding and re-introduction in the wild, the number of individuals rose to 800-1000 individuals in the 2000s. However a recent decline in the population led to the species being re-classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2016.

Photo by Jacques de Speville

Photo by Jacques de Speville

4. LAND SNAILS

Native invertebrates are probably the underdog species when it comes to conservation. Similarly to other native species, land snail fauna has suffered dramatic decline due to habitat loss and alteration and the introduction of non-native species. In comparison to the other islands in the Mascarenes (Reunion and Rodrigues), Mauritius is documented to have the greatest number of endemic land snails and also the highest extinction rate (Griffiths and Florens, 2006).

Plicadomus sulcatus is a Mauritian endemic land snail that was thought to be near extinction or extint in the 2000s, with the last record of a live snail at the time dating back to 1983. While empty shells have been recorded, it is not until 2010, that a new live individual was found. So far, only about 5 adults and 1 juvenile of this species have been observed.

Photo by Vincent Florens

Photo by Vincent Florens

5. REPTILES

Habitat loss and the introduction of animals like rats in Mauritius contributed to the loss of Mauritian native reptile species and populations. Several species such as the Round Island boa, the Telfair’s skink and the Round Island day gecko are now restricted to offshore islets.

The Round Island boa (Casarea dussumieri ) is the only surviving endemic snake in Mauritius. It used to coexist with the now extinct Round Island Burrowing Boa, which was last recorded in 1975. In 2018, the species was downlisted from the Endangered threat category to a Vulnerable one on the IUCN Red List following conservation efforts on Round Island and reintroduction on Gunner's Quoin (Coin de Mire).