Heritage Nature Reserve has recently launched a new walk, inviting you to discover the Bel Ombre biosphere – an area of the Black River Gorges National Park where animal and plant species native to Mauritius are protected. Jean-Claude Sevathian, a botanist who has been involved with the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation for nearly twenty years, leads your exploration of this little piece of paradise on Earth.
A journey of discovery, rich in surprises
A stream guards the entrance to the reserve, evoking a scene from the famous novel Paul et Virginie. Visitors are immediately transported back in time – this is the island as the Portuguese found it when they arrived in the 16th century: a lush and vivid forest, inhabited only by the “real” Mauritians – species native to Mauritius or the Mascarenes. The majestic ebony, the Eugenia bojeri (“bois clou”), the Chassalia coriacea (“bois corail”), the Labourdonnaisia calophylloides (“bois de natte”), the Mauritius fody, with its bright red plumage, and the Mauritian Flying Fox are some of the indigenous species that can be admired within the sanctuary of Bel Ombre.
As you walk, you may see a Pink Pigeon or Echo Parakeet – both recently saved from extinction. Birds are often fairly easy to spot around the feeders that have been set up throughout the reserve, in such a way as to be inaccessible to predators. However, the birds don’t always have it so easy! The site’s conservation team closely monitors seasonal forest events including foliation (the annual regrowth of leaves), flowering, and fruiting, so that the feeders can be closed as soon as the birds have access to sufficient natural food sources.
This enjoyable and easy-going ramble brings to light interesting anecdotes on subjects as diverse as communication between trees, the enigmatic tambalacoque or ‘dodo tree’ (a few specimens can be found in the Bel Ombre biosphere) and monogamy in Echo Parakeets. Unusual, and potentially amusing, topics, but they offer an insight into the richness and beauty of a natural world whose mysteries we have not yet completely unravelled.
The purpose of the biosphere
In 1970, UNESCO launched its ‘Man and Biosphere’ Programme, with the aim of improving the long-term relationship between Man and his environment. At Bel Ombre, a team of experts from different organisations – the Rogers Group, the National Parks and Conservation Service, the Forestry Service and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation – have worked hard to add Bel Ombre to UNESCO’s worldwide register of biospheres. “In the long term, we hope to expand the biosphere to include the entire Black River Gorges National Park”, says our guide, Jean-Claude Sevathian.
It is a laudable though highly ambitious project, involving the removal of alien species (such as the highly invasive ‘Chinese’ Cattley guava), saving endangered species from extinction, and educating the public on the importance of conserving primary forests, now only 2% of Mauritius’ forested land.
This walk is Heritage Nature Reserve’s tribute to the efforts of local experts. You are invited to discover a unique landscape that, like many of the species that make their homes within it, is on the verge of extinction in Mauritius.
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