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A refuge for unique species in the world
A refuge for unique species in the world

A light breeze blows over the wild south of the island, on this Saturday morning. Bel Ombre Nature Reserve sports a resplendent range of summer colors. Our guide, Jean Claude Sevathian, is a talkative and fun botanist who knows the fauna and flora of Mauritius. Accessible to all, this new hike in the heart of the Black River Gorges National Park – an area managed by the national Parks and Conservation Services (NPCS) – is already one of the domain’s not-to-be-missed experiences.
Follow us as we discover the Bel Ombre Biosphere, one of the best-protected primary forests on the island!


A 4×4 type safari leads us to the entrance of the reserve. This zone of transition to the biosphere is, against all expectations, populated by Florida pines – a secondary (or commercial) forest planted to generate employment in the 1970s.

Our group crosses a small bridge to reach the central conservation area and faces a landscape of great beauty. A stream in the shade of the canopy evokes the passage of the torrent of Paul et Virginie, and its soft and rhythmic clapping the song of birds and the rustle of the leaves. On the way to “Bon Courage”, a trail formerly used by hunters, Jean Claude enthusiastically introduces us to many endemic plant species such as the patte de lézard (literally: lizard’s foot) fern, the vacoas and the majestic bois de natte. We stop in front of a bicentennial ebony tree, astonished by its splendour, and we take turns to wrap our arms around it, while our guide looks on, amused.

“Did you know? Of the 691 plant species present in Mauritius, 273 are endemic to the island and 150 are endemic to the Mascarenes.”


Formed 8 million years ago by a series of underwater volcanic eruptions, Mauritius was not
exactly a tropical paradise at its genesis. Plants and animals came to the island in different ways. While some species “actively” found their way by swimming or flying, others allowed themselves to be carried by the wind or clung to fragments of floating vegetation. Isolated from the rest of their family, they have adapted to their new environment to such an extent that we now speak of them as “endemic” species, since they do not exist anywhere else.


Since the 1970s, an exceptional collaboration between the National Parks and Conservation Service, the Forestry Service, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the private sector has saved several species of endemic birds from extinction such as the kestrel, the pink pigeon and the big echo parakeet. The Bel Ombre biosphere actively protects these birds by providing shelters where they can brood and feeders inaccessible to predators.

“But our goal is not to make them dependent,” says Jean Claude. Forest phenology – in other words the study of seasonal events such as flowering, leafing and fruiting – allows site researchers to assess the availability of naturally accessible food resources, and to close the feeders when birds can, somehow, fend for themselves!

The biosphere is therefore under continuous surveillance, but the team must also regularly
weed invasive plants such as the strawberry guava. Indeed, some endemic plants such as ox tree or Hibiscus genevii are currently critically endangered – not to mention all those that the island has already lost following the invasion of exotic species or overexploitation.

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