Once upon Round Island | by Aurelie Hector

‘The wild child’. This is how aunties and uncles used to refer to me as a kid. For them it was a little expression that described my hyperactive personality, my head for adventures and my unending curiosity for nature. Well, for me it was more than that. It has provided the definition of my true identity that has led to my passion and love for wildlife up to this present day. Later on it came as no surprise to anyone when I decided to become a conservation biologist to devote my time and effort to the protection of mother nature. Where do I come from and work for? Mauritius itself, the land of the Dodo.

For those who doesn’t know Mauritius is a tiny volcanic island that formed in the Indian Ocean 8-10 million years ago. At only 204,000 hectares, it appears as a small dot on the world map to the East of Madagascar. Mauritius can be described as a lost tropical paradise surrounded by white sandy beaches and crystal clear turquoise lagoons where snorkelling is a must. Also a playground for hikers to hop around our numerous mountains ranges with fantastic views of Mauritius to be admired for whoever reaches their summits. For a conservation biologist however, Mauritius is well known for a much darker history with terrible consequences to its wildlife resulting from human activity. It gave us the ultimate realisation that our kind can cause the extinction of an entire species, with the early loss of the dodo and thus the expression as “dead as a dodo”. For myself, I consider this place as the motherland for all conservation biologists and the country of hope for environmental protection action.

So here I am now, working for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation for the last 4 years with the goal of protecting our fauna and flora in the hope of bringing the island’s unique wildlife back from the edge. Plenty of time to create unforgettable memories with nature, but the question I need to answer today is, what was my most favorite wildlife moment?

It took me days and weeks try to find the answers to that question. Well to tell the truth I could not come up with one choice from having many special wildlife moments to choose from. However what they all have in common was where they happened, Round Island.

This tiny nature reserve of 219 ha is a haven for Mauritius’ endemic herpetofauna that have long been lost from mainland Mauritius after the invasion by alien predatory species like rats, pigs, cats and monkeys. Round Island’s remoteness, 22km North off Mauritius, and difficult access, made it unappealing for human settlement and this saved its precious inhabitants from a premature extinction. Man did introduce goats and rabbits as a food stock to the island, but fortunately these two species have been eradicated and the damage they caused to the vegetation is being healed and restored under the watchful eyes of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Mauritian Government.

No doubt that watching the sun setting from this islet while humpback whales were breaching 20 metres off the coastline has been one of the my favourite moments to never forget. Witnessing the spectacle of those giants of our oceans teaching their little ones how to breach would melt even the ice of the North pole. Catching and ringing the Round Island petrel for the first time, a complex hybrid of three seabird species that come to nest on mainly on this islet. It is the most agile animal that I have ever seen gliding through the sky up high and diving to within a few centimetres of the ground before heading up again with a spine-tingling whooshing sound.

The adults differ in colour from dark grey to light, as well as intermediates between, while the chicks sit in nests like grey balls of fluff. I also got the chance to work with one of the most unique species of snake in the world, the Round Island keel-scaled boa the only living representative of the Bolyeriidae family. This species was recognised as an Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species by the EDGE of Existence Program in 2016, with whom I was given the chance and funding to spend more time studying this enigmatic species of snake. My time spent surveying and handling the snake really changed my perspective on reptiles. Where before I would see cold blooded animals that are deadly and poisonous to humans, now I can see the beauty of evolution and the complexity of living in balance with nature. For all these reasons I will say being the Senior Warden of Round Island for three years is my best wildlife moment I have ever experienced.

About the Entry

Aurelie Hector

I am a passionate of nature working for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in the hope of protecting our endemic flora and fauna. I worked on a variety of conservation projects and is the Senior Warden on Round Island where I monitors populations of native birds and reptiles and helps to train new conservationists.

  • Site name | EDGE of Existence
  • Site URLhttps://www.edgeofexistence.org/fellow/aurelie-hector/
  • Why should someone visit your site? The site shows different work on various unique and globally endangered species all around the world through the help of the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) of Existence programme. You will learn what are EDGE species, how they are important to the ecosystem and what are the actions undertaken to protect them. You will also be able to meet some of the EDGE fellows and read about there work as well.
  • Entry TitleOnce upon Round Island
  • Entry Number | 83

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