Everything happens for a reason. And everything doesn’t happen for a reason as well. When I returned to Mauritius a bit more than a year ago, it was supposed to be for a short visit, after which I was to be Tenerife-bound to spend three months whale watching. Well, it still hurts to admit that this never happened but I ended up volunteering with the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation instead, which was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had.
Of course, that definitely wasn’t what I thought the first week I was there. The city girl that I was definitely wanted an adventure, but within the limits of her comfort zone and everything I did within the organisation was definitely way out of my comfort zone. If someone had told me at that time that I would be using a compost toilet for the coming seven months, I would have laughed in their face. Now, I can pretty much do it everywhere – if you really had to know – so it’s not really a problem. It was also the first time I was sharing a house with anyone who wasn’t related to me and wasn’t obligated by our blood ties to bear with extremely annoying self or give in to my every whim. I certainly am painting a lovely picture of myself right now.
The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation has many conservation projects across the country, mostly but not exclusively in the National Park in the south west part of the island where the 2% remaining native forest is located. I stayed at one of the station from Monday to Saturday, coming home on Saturday afternoon, with some 5 -6 other people. The number of people varied depending on the time of the year and I seemed to have joined during the time when we were nearly into off-season and left only when the season started again. It did mean less people than usual at the station which also meant that I got to have my own room for most of the time I was there, having to share it with some guests who were just passing by.
I was put to work on the Pink Pigeon project but since I was at a “multiproject” station, I got to see some of the other projects as well as participate on them sometimes. The pink pigeon, given its name for its pink beak and legs, is one of the many endemic endangered species in Mauritius. Back in the 1980’s, there were only 12 individuals left in the wild and now we are nearing the 500 individuals (from what I remember, anyone feel free to correct me), definitely an improvement from 30 years ago.
I definitely learned several skills during my time there, some more unpleasant than others. I tend to have the reputation of a psychopath and mass murderer there now – predator and exotic bird control, go figure – and I’m not sure that dissection skills should really be mentioned on my CV. But I did learn how to identify and handle birds, how to avoid wild pigs the forest (you run in the opposite direction) and cook for a lot of people. When we weren’t working, we were always eating – at least I was. I don’t think we could get through the week without baking a cake or two. I definitely put on weight during that time, which I’m still trying to lose (not that it’s working given the amount of cake I have here in Turkey).
Seven months down the line, I had transformed into a wild child of the forest – slightly exaggerated –, definitely more confident in the work I was doing and I had a new non-blood-related family. I’m not saying that it was all rainbows and unicorns. There were many times I was angry and frustrated at some people or even at the organisation, there were times I thought this wasn’t for me but I still think of going back there,
hopefully maybe not on the same project though. There is so much more I want to learn and discover.
And I still cannot get over how beautiful everything is.