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Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

Thursday was another full day. We wanted to take maximum advantage of our short time on Rodrigues.  Today we are visiting Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park.  Anse Quitor is the other nature reserve on Rodrigues.  It is in very different habitat than Grande Montagne.  It’s situated near the airport on the “coral plain” - an area of old coral reef that through geologic history has become raised and is now land.  It is dryer and hotter here than the main part of the island which is an extinct volcano.  Andrea and her team are also removing invasive plants and reforesting Anse Quitor. This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne.  While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with – because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.  This area is probably where many of Rodrigues’ giant tortoises lived and many of the endemic plants show co-evolutionary traits.  The lower leaves on the plants – where they would have been browsed on by giant tortoises – are much smaller and underdeveloped so that they attracted little attention from the grazing reptiles.   Beyond the reach of tortoise mouths, the leaves  are full and green. 
 
Speaking of tortoises, that’s where we were headed next – a private tortoise park.  The park is home to A LOT of tortoises – giant Aldabra tortoises, radiated tortoises, and others. The habitat and perfect for tortoises and they are thriving - reproducing successfully.  Forestry and MWF are monitoring this success closely with thoughts of eventually introducing a species of giant tortoise to part of Rodrigues.  On Mauritius, this has already been done with good success on one of the coastal island nature reserves that used to be home to its own endemic species of giant tortoise.
 
On our way back to Pt. Mathurin from the eastern side of the island, we stopped at the airport to pick up Vikash Tatayah, head of Conservation for MWF, and an accompanying French film crew here to film the wildlife of Rodrigues – particularly the bats.  Vikash started with MWF when he was a student and completed his Ph.D. while working fulltime at MWF.  No small accomplishment! As a result of his tenure and academic background, Vikash is the expert on the flora and fauna of Rodrigues and Mauritius. And equally important for us, he is also well known by government officials in Mauritius’ National Parks and Conservation Service and Rodrigues’ Commission for the Environment.  Vikash was crucial to connecting us with the right people to talk to in order to get permission to and permits to export bats and spiders.
 
After a nice lunch with some of the staff from MWF, two of which – Sweety and Harel – I knew from my previous visit to Rodrigues in 2002 – we left to visit an old friend from my first trip to Rodrigues – Richard Payendee. When I lived on Rodrigues in 1995, Richard was the sole representative of MWF on the island.  Almost 20 years later, he has been elected as Commissioner of the Environment – the top environmental position on Rodrigues.  He was all decked out in business dress and sitting in an official office but to me he was still the same Richard who befriended and helped me so much in 1995.  It was great to visit with him.
 
We then headed to see bats!! Finally. We’d been on Rodrigues for two days and while I’d seen many bats flying at a distance and heard them in the garden of our guest house, I was itching to get up close with them. Andrea took us to a huge roost in the valley of Acacia. We took a 4X4 truck up a steep track until we found a place where we could view into the valley below. It was teeming with bats and because it was approaching dusk, they were becoming increasingly active – flying in and out of the trees and even right over our heads as they headed out to forage for the night.  Tim and I were entranced. After years of working with these bats in the Zoo, it is absolutely stunning to see them flying around at such close proximity. I was once again awestruck by how many bats there are now!  This species has made a great comeback.  Finally, as it got really dark, we had to abandon our bat-watching and return to our guest house for our last night.  We have a morning flight tomorrow.

Track heading up to the bat roost in the Acacia valley.
Track heading up to the bat roost in the Acacia valley.
Rodrigues fruit bats in the one of the many roost trees in the Acacia valley.
Rodrigues fruit bats in the one of the many roost trees in the Acacia valley.
Rodrigues fruit bat leaving roost for a night of foraging.
Rodrigues fruit bat leaving roost for a night of foraging.

Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

By Kim Lengel, Vice President of Conservation and Education

Thursday was another full day. We wanted to take maximum advantage of our short time on Rodrigues.  Today we are visiting Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park.  Anse Quitor is the other nature reserve on Rodrigues.  It is in very different habitat than Grande Montagne.  It’s situated near the airport on the “coral plain” - an area of old coral reef that through geologic history has become raised and is now land.  It is dryer and hotter here than the main part of the island which is an extinct volcano.  Andrea and her team are also removing invasive plants and reforesting Anse Quitor. This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne.  While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with – because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.  This area is probably where many of Rodrigues’ giant tortoises lived and many of the endemic plants show co-evolutionary traits.  The lower leaves on the plants – where they would have been browsed on by giant tortoises – are much smaller and underdeveloped so that they attracted little attention from the grazing reptiles.   Beyond the reach of tortoise mouths, the leaves and full and green. 
 
Speaking of tortoises, that’s where we were headed next – a private tortoise park.  The park is home to A LOT of tortoises – giant Aldabra tortoises, radiated tortoises, and others. The habitat and perfect for tortoises and they are thriving - reproducing successfully.  Forestry and MWF are monitoring this success closely with thoughts of eventually introducing a species of giant tortoise to part of Rodrigues.  On Mauritius, this has already been done with good success on one of the coastal island nature reserves that used to be home to its own endemic species of giant tortoise.
 
On our way back to Pt. Mathurin from the eastern side of the island, we stopped at the airport to pick up Vikash Tatayah, head of Conservation for MWF, and an accompanying French film crew here to film the wildlife of Rodrigues – particularly the bats.  Vikash started with MWF when he was a student and completed his Ph.D. while working fulltime at MWF.  No small accomplishment! As a result of his tenure and academic background, Vikash is the expert on the flora and fauna of Rodrigues and Mauritius. And equally important for us, he is also well known by government officials in Mauritius’ National Parks and Conservation Service and Rodrigues’ Commission for the Environment.  Vikash was crucial to connecting us with the right people to talk to in order to get permission to and permits to export bats and spiders.
 
After a nice lunch with some of the staff from MWF, two of which – Sweety and Alfred – I knew from my previous visit to Rodrigues in 2002 – we left to visit an old friend from my first trip to Rodrigues – Richard Payendee. When I lived on Rodrigues in 1995, Richard was the sole representative of MWF on the island.  Almost 20 years later, he has been elected as Commissioner of the Environment – the top environmental position on Rodrigues.  He was all decked out in business dress and sitting in an official office but to me he was still the same Richard who befriended and helped me so much in 1995.  It was great to visit with him.
 
We then headed to see bats!! Finally. We’d been on Rodrigues for two days and while I’d seen many bats flying at a distance and heard them in the garden of our guest house, I was itching to get up close with them. Andrea took us to a huge roost in the valley of Cascade XXX. We took a 4X4 truck up a steep track along Cascade XX until we found a place where we could view into the valley below. It was teeming with bats and because it was approaching dusk, they were becoming increasingly active – flying in and out of the trees and even right over our heads as they headed out to forage for the night.  Tim and I were entranced. After years of working with these bats in the Zoo, it is absolutely stunning to see them flying around at such close proximity. I was once again awestruck by how many bats there are now!  This species has made a great comeback.  Finally, as it got really dark, we had to abandon our bat-watching and return to our guest house for our last night.  We have a morning flight tomorrow.