We had hoped to stop in Rodrigues Island en route to Mauritius, however with the gale as it was, we decided to pass by. Determined to get there though, it meant a flight from Mauritius - and yes, it was definitely worth it.
With a colourful market place to buy some goodies and lovely colonial buildings dotted around the capital, Port Mathurin was a good place to start exploring this small volcanic island. Add to this many beautiful coastal walks and forested hilltop hikes and views, St John’s church (in the pics) with its intriguing architecture, and friendly people taking their time about life - no stress lines here!
But for me the absolute highlight was, of course, the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve. Forget the caves, I’m here for the tortoises. And tortoises there were - about 1200 of them (they’re numbered so they keep track) - from giant old dames to rock-like babies. I was in tortoise heaven and I wasn’t leaving any time soon. I mean, just look at that face!! Do you blame me?
The guides in the reserve are a mine of information as you walk the 2 km path through the gorge - how you tell the different sexes (flatter shell, shorter tail), how the ground temperature affects the sex of the babies forming inside the eggs (warmer = girls, cooler = boys), the age of the different tortoises, what they eat (grasses, leaves, some invertebrates) and so forth.
And if you are really interested in the tortoises, read on below the pics………
The reserve is a huge step forward in conservation on the island. Rodrigues is one of the most devastated places on earth and there is much barren land, however, the reserve has brought 20 hectares back to its former glory - removing invasive introduced species of plants and planting and reintroducing natives - many of them rare. Additionally they are reintroducing key animal species into the area. Hopefully with the success of this reserve more of the island will get the same treatment.
When French and Dutch settlers arrived it was said you could walk a mile on top of the tortoises without putting your feet on the ground - they were prolific, but they were slow and they were huge, which meant humans, along with introduced pigs and rats, plundered the tortoises and their eggs until they became extinct like the famous dodo.
The tortoises you see are sadly not the original inhabitants, but close relatives that fill the same important ecological role as their predecessors eating native plants and spreading seeds and so forth. Only about 10 years ago the first tortoises were brought here, now there are 650 Radiated and 600 Aldabra tortoises (hopefully more since I visited) and all the young tortoises we saw were born in the reserve. The aim of the reserve is to have over 1,000 adult tortoises of each species roaming freely in the restored native forest.
You can check out more on the reserve’s website here.