By Monica Fatogun
This was one of the most memorable works I did that involved deep wildlife conservation that was so gratifying and I also got to visit a dream destination of mine; Mauritius.
At the time, we were trying to save the Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) from extinction so it does not face the same fate as their distant relative; the Dodo (which went extinct in 1861). In the mid-90s, there were just 9 pink pigeons left in the wild and these birds were enlisted as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2000.
As Pink Pigeons are endemic to Mauritius; this means that they are only found in Mauritius and nowhere else. Mauritius was determined to save the species with the help of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and I wanted to be a part of it.
*Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri
I applied to be a field biologist in 2013 and I packed my bags to visit the island. Mauritius is an island covering about 1875 sq. kilometres, having a population of just 1.2million people. I won’t deny that like a regular tourist, I was honestly attracted to the luscious beaches, blue skies, and how environmentally conscious they were by preserving a national park on the island; The Black River Gorges National Park.
That park had a working population on the Pink Pigeon within the park that were taken care of by MWF. At the park, we had different research stations scattered around that accommodated us during the weekdays. There was also a separate aviary to take care of the new pink pigeon fledglings in order to reduce their mortality rates, thereby increasing the population. Sometimes, *Black River Gorges National Park
I was stationed to work in the aviary which required the daily care of other endemic species like the Mauritian Bats, the Aldabra tortoises, the Mauritian kestrel, just to mention a few.
To save the species, we had rigorous days of observation; checking new territories of the birds in the park, took nest counts, noting their tree preference (so we can plant more of it), noting the number of breeding pairs, prepared extensive reports, etc. Each bird was ringed with a combination of ring colours and the data was saved and documented. Due to how extensive this exercise was, all birds were ringed so ensure that any new bird we saw, we knew it was a new offspring/ fledgling. Our supplementary feeding stations made it easy for us to catch the fledgling and ring it within a set timeframe. There was a capture method to ensure the bird was not over stressed during the process.
We typically spent 5 week days within the park which gave me time to explore the cities on the weekends. I would get on boat rides for some dolphin sighting; attending barbecues, visit the city markets, watch the races, etc. I found it insightful how their street food was very similar to that of the Indian’s. Looking at our history books, during the colonial era, a lot of Indian slaves were shipped to Mauritius to work on the sugar cane plantations. This explains why their culture have strong Indian influences. Mauritius is known to be a Mini-India and they are known for their sugar and rum.
Mauritians are huge fans of Bollywood movies and music. I met quite a few who could understand Hindi fluently. In the evenings I’d dress up and explore the nightlife with friends and have midnight strolls on the beach.
Living in Mauritius was one of the best 6 months of my life; I was opportune to do what I love in a beautiful island. I was in a different country that had beaches which were 5 minutes walking distance from my home. I have a lot of fond memories of Mauritius , some with funny stories that I may share someday.
To add another accolade, in 2016, there were reports from Birdlife that the Pink Pigeon was successfully downlisted to a safe status, as listed in the IUCN Red Vulnerable List. This was all thanks to the perseverance of MWF staff and volunteers. I am very happy and proud of being part of the team that contributed to their survival.
It is on my bucket list to return to Mauritius , this time as a tourist. I long for the day I can take a ride along the coasts of the island which takes about 4 hours, and have wonderful barbecues every weekend!
It is a must visit for anyone reading this!
*Monica Fatogun, a Wildlife Conservationist writes from Lagos.