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.

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.

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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