26 September 2006

Mauritius: Footprints From the Past


Port Louis — The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) wants to put an end to the myth that man can do as he pleases to nature and still survive.

Reality check, says Lone Raffray of the MWF. "Nature can survive without us. We can't survive without it." So the NGO with the help of the government - Agro-industry minister Arvin Boolell has assured them of his support - wants to make Mauritians aware of the importance of conservation. Now, before it is too late.

What do we need to conserve? The balance of nature, simply. Out there in the wilderness, are some 674 endemic plant species and insects, birds and creatures like the giant tortoise. They are there for a reason. They each have a role to play in the bigger scheme of things. And treating the environment badly will mean endangering them to the point of extinction. Mauritius is already infamous for her extinct dodo.

The dodo is unfortunately not the only extinct creature of Mauritius. Some of them have been immortalised (but not in any way that can bring them back)as bronze casts and are at the moment on display at the Blue Penny museum at Caudan Waterfront. They are also for sale. This initiative is one of the ways the MWF has found to help Mauritians become aware that crimes against nature have been committed and a stop should be put to them now.

There seems to be a distinctive indifference to the cause however on the part of those who are primarily concerned with the matter - the people of Mauritius. And the concept of the importance of animals and plants that we view as mostly decorative can be hard to grasp. Lone Raffray puts it in those terms; "Taking out a couple of species is like removing the threads out of a woven carpet. At first, it will hold but only just. And then it will start disintegrating."

The implications of a "disintegrating carpet" or a wounded nature are life-threatening. However much many would like to dissociate natural catastrophes like tsunamis, earthquakes, global warming and its consequences, etc. from an imbalance in nature, conventional wisdom is moving more towards the theory that everything is linked.

Highway or endemic forest?

In an age where development has become the priority of all developing countries as well as developed ones, Mauritius has shown enough maturity to make the choice between a highway and an endemic forest. The Valley of Ferney has been saved, hopefully for the right reasons. And this sort of difficult choice will have to be constantly made by governments. But, on an individual level, choices also have to be made. And it is up to us, really.

Lone Raffray believes that one of the ways this could be achieved is by appealing to the gut reactions of people. If only one could make them understand the tragedy of neglecting or destroying nature and its gifts, then surely part of the battle would be won.

The unique footprint of the dodo, on sale at the Blue Penny, appeals to such feelings. The print was taken from a genuine foot - so says the MWF - of the extinct bird that had been preserved at the Natural History Museum in London. The foot is now lost but a very few prints had been made and reproductions of this footprint are what the MWF is offering the Mauritian public.

Footprints from the past.... Will they haunt us and will we act? Or do we have to resign ourselves to achieving immortality through reproductions of other footprints that once walked the soil of Mauritius?

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