Taking lots of pictures and almost losing my temper in Mauritius’ turtle sanctuary. Mauritius is an extremely interesting and vibrant island but it really suffered at the hands of its various Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British colonisers. There used to be large native populations including dodo and giant tortoise but both of these were hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century. La Vanille Reserve is a multi-faceted tourist attraction-come-crocodile meat facility.
La Vanille is situated on the south side of Mauritius in a region full of sugar plantations and quiet towns. It’s an area I wish we could have explored a little more thoroughly. The reserve itself was somewhere that I wasn’t completely sure I’d like to visit because, often, developing countries have atrocious farming and zoo conditions. Did I want to sully my so far relaxed holiday? Nevertheless we had heard a lot of good things so we explored anyway. Upon arrival everything felt shut, the midday sun was roasting everything and there were only a couple of cars outside the ticket office. We approached the hatch and happily found there were staff and that it wasn’t shut. It was really cheap to get in, about £7 I think, and you get a guide included at a set time to view the different areas. We’d arrived just at the right time, our guide came to collect our small group and moments later a coach of children arrived and poured into the reception area. Chattering and excited. We left them behind and were led around the various enclosures.
Without a doubt the main attractions are the giant tortoises and the Nile Crocodiles. The former were imported from the Seychelles after the indigenous population met their doom, in order that a reserve could be set up to look after these lumbering beasts, but the Nile Crocs were brought here for two reasons – they taste quite good and their hides are useful. Before you get too righteous about the decline of large reptiles worldwide please take a second to investigate the lengths of your knowledge. Yes, MANY large reptile species are in a terrible condition, MANY are going extinct all the time due to interactions with humans and habitat loss, but Nile Crocodiles are registered as ‘Least Concern’ and it is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 of them in the wild. So really, these things are plentiful gnashy foodstuffs, if you like that kind of thing.
La Vanille farms this type of crocodile and even has a restaurant serving their meat. They obviously do not eat the tortoises. If they were more plentiful I’m sure we would because according to this video clip they are one of the most moreish snacks around!
So, anyway, the guided tour took in the chambers used to contain the different age groups of crocodiles. These are really rather sterile while-tiled boxes with a shallow pool at one end. There’s not much direct sunlight but the walls are wire mesh and there aren’t too many crammed into each section. I’ve seen far worse. There are some other landscaped pools with crocs lounging around and generally not doing much. One different species of croc had its own pen because it kept fighting and had already lost a hand. Silly monster.
The tour takes in a jungle area with a path that snakes beneath towering trees and beautiful green foliage. Fish fill the pools beside the walkways and native birds flutter from branch to branch. It’s a very pleasant area. Monkey enclosures and sleeping bats can be seen periodically and there’s even an insect house full of the most brightly coloured butterfly and beetle specimens you’re likely to see. Iridescent walls of them which also appear to be very well cared for – no crumbly wings in sight…
Pigs, monkeys, guinea pigs, lizards, fish, turtles – all can be seen in La Vanille as you wander slowly from sedate cage to comatose pen. No, nothing much happens but this is the tropics, what do you really expect?
The best part of the whole reserve was the giant tortoise pen. You walk through a simple wooden gate and suddenly you are amidst dozens of huge reptiles. They ranged from semi-submerged in a reed-lined pool, through solitary rest in dappled shade, to munching branches of foliage and apples scattered in the dust. They are magnificent creatures and alone they are worth the entry fee.
You can stroke their heads and necks, something that they seem to really, really, REALLY like. You can stroke their bulging carapace. Or, as the marauding school group did you can try to ride them, feed them litter, or kick them for no apparent reason.
Seriously, I was absolutely fucking fuming watching these little bastards attacking the placid octogenarian or even nonogenarian tortoises. The ‘teachers’ did nothing, they just wandered off nonchalantly and ignored the assaults of their vicious pupils. After the maelstrom of spiteful little turds moved on to other victims (hopefully they tried to ride crocodiles) I silently circled the giants, picking up litter and checking that none of them were hurt. It was extremely upsetting. Clearly the attitude held by many Mauritians is that animals are for our amusement and for our food, without any regard for their welfare whilst they are in our ‘care’. This did obviously blot our visit. I often found my mind wandering back to what I’d seen.
But, nonetheless La Vanille is a really nice place to visit. I just wish they had some staff in the enclosure at all times. Hopefully armed with cattle prods and pepper spray, because I’d have loved to use them.