Seeing an old friend

On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US four times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences.  She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ.  I had not had an opportunity to see her since 2006 so I was anxious to catch up.  MJ is now a teacher in one of the two colleges (Rodriguan term for high school) in Pt. Mathurin where she teaches English.  Needless to say, her English is excellent!  We spent too little time catching up and renewing our friendship before we had to leave for the airport for our flight back to Mauritius.  

Mary Jane Raboude
Mary Jane Raboude, the first Rodrigues Environmental Educator, with a Rodrigues fruit bat (archival photo).
At the airport we said our goodbyes to Andrea with promises to continue our support of all the great things happening on Rodrigues.  Joining us in supporting bat conservation on Rodrigues is our long-time partner, the Organization for Bat Conservation.  As well, many of the zoos housing bats in North American have at one time or another during the tenure of the project, contributed to  REEP. Support from zoos exhibiting Rodrigues fruit bats for conservation of  these bats and their environment is key to the ongoing success of the project.  

Our flight to Mauritius was uneventful but apparently the afternoon flight, the one on which Vikash was booked, was cancelled due to technical problems with the plane.  So he spent an extra night on Rodrigues since there are only two flights scheduled per day. 

Flying into Mauritius from Rodrigues.
A taxi met us at the airport and transferred us to our hotel in Tamarin on the southwest coast of Mauritius - the area known as Black River - or Rivière Noire.  Driving here we passed through bustling towns with signs of a strong, developing economy and huge expanses of sugar cane.  Almost all the lowland areas not used for residential building are planted with sugar cane.  This development has helped create a growing economy but like on Rodrigues, destruction of the native forests has led to a depressing wave of extinctions of animals and plants.  Saving the remaining species and forests in the work on MWF on Mauritius.  This organization is responsible for single-handedly saving several species from certain extinction.  For example, Mauritius kestrels, a medium-sized falcon found only here - were reduced to 4 birds but now thanks to intensive captive breeding and reintroduction by MWF are surviving in the wild. 

Signs of a strong economy in Mauritius.
After an interesting taxi ride – including an unscheduled stop in model ship building factory – not our idea but our driver’s – we eventually made it to our hotel to drop off bags and then right to the MWF GDEWS – also known as the Aviaries –where much of the captive breeding of Mauritian birds occurs and where the bat colony is housed.  We were greeted on arrival by keepers, Nadine and Danella.  These two women are the true experts on Mauritian birds and Rodrigues fruit bats having worked with them for over a decade at the GDEWS. 
By this time it was getting late and we were losing light – darkness falls abruptly at 6:30 p.m. so we needed to immediately start preparing for our bat move. We had shipped unassembled bat travelling crates to the GDEWS and now needed to focus on getting them ready.  Our first task was to put together the inner carriers.  Because fruit bats are considered potential crop pests, to ensure against escape enroute, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) requires them to be shipped in a double-container – essentially a crate within a crate.  There are very specific guidelines for what shipping containers must look like and what regulations they must follow and failure to adhere to these guidelines can mean an airline will refuse to accept the animals for shipment.  This is obviously not the best thing for the animals or for us and we wanted to make sure it did not happen.  Thus we had planned meticulously for this trip. Curators at the Zoo had studied the container requirements and had ensured that we had everything we needed to build a comfortable and safe carrier for the bats that met IATA requirements.   Thanks to the excellent assistance of the GDEWS team we quickly put together all six inner crates and finished just as it got completely dark. We hopped on a bus back to our hotel with plans to return Saturday for more crate assembly.

Putting together the bat shipment carriers at the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary.

10/02/2013 : Back in the States

It’s 6:30 a.m. New York time and we’re here. Our job now is to get back to the Zoo as quickly as possible.


10/01/2013 : Heading back

We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well during the night – a good sign that they were settled in.


09/30/2013 : Catching spiders

Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean.  So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay.  He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins! 


09/29/2013 : Tourist Time

We took a long bus ride to Quatre Bonnes for the weekly market where we had a chance to pick up some souvenirs for family, friends, and coworkers. 


09/28/2013 : Getting ready for the move

Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.


09/28/2013 : Rare birds in Mauritius

The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens, with the exception of the bats. 


09/27/2013 : Seeing an old friend

On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US 4 times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences.  She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ. 


09/26/2013 : Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

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.


09/26/2013 : Touring Rodrigues

Very proud to be a part of an organization that has played such a major role in saving a species.


09/25/2013 : Off to Rodrigues

Some more background on how the Philly Zoo became a champion for endangered bats half way around the world. 


09/24/2013 : Some background on Mauritius

The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located about 1200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, which includes the principal island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (the only home of the Rodrigues fruit bat), and several smaller outlying islands and archipelagos.


09/24/2013 : Arriving in Mauritius

I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago.  It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long.


09/23/2013 : Traveling to Mauritius

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK airport in NYC for our flight to Mauritius by way of Johannesburg, South Africa.  We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.