A Register of Opportunity

BDB307A0-742C-4A7E-B7E0-18323D154F33As botanic gardens go, the Sir Seewoosagu Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens in Mauritius are not large. 92 acres to Bangalore’s Lal Bagh of 240 acres to put it in perspective (but of course we need to factor in the size of the two countries!).  We don’t need to dwell on the variety of flora, both endemic and exotic, on display there. Nor the few but interesting animals—specifically some deer and some huge tortoises. The only endemic Mauritian mammal, a bat, the Peropus niger, may also be spotted on the trees, it is said.

But it was not all this that really fascinated me. Let me tell you what did.

Little shelters dot the gardens. At the shelter overlooking the beautiful lily pond was2C9A861B-73C8-4075-9652-6A6A1E1591B9 a table. And on the table was a register. I sneaked a peak into the register. And this is what I saw: Several entries each day on the condition of the pond, the leaves, the flowers; the birds and insects seen. And a sketch of the pond, done at the same time every day, showing where flowers had bloomed and where there were buds. And it was not only the lily pond. There was a similar register at the lotus pond, and some other spots in the garden. As I flipped the pages, I could see that no day was missed, no entry casual

What seriousness of purpose and systematic application, to a job that may seem not to have any particular outcome. But the person behind the system and the people implementing it obviously know the importance.  After all, scientific method consists of : ‘systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

The Botanic Garden in Mauritius is definitely doing its part! It is obvious that they know the value of keeping systematic notes and data. It may seem trivial, but who knows what it may lead to? After all, research is one of the stated objectives of Botanic Gardens, Zoos, Aquaria and all such facilities do. And keeping such meticulous notes may be the single most important contribution they can make.

Are we in India at all using such opportunities? I am not sure!

An excerpt from Darwin’s Beagle Notebooks. He observed and noted down everything around him—flora, fauna, geology, weather conditions, animal behaviour. And at the end of the day, changed human understanding of the world! Without his notes, he may not have reached his conclusions!

Extraordinary numbers of Turpin —

 drinking bury head above eyes — Will drink when a person is within 2 yards of them about 10 gulps in minute.

Noise during cohabitation.

Eggs covered by sand soil from 4 to 5 in number — require a long time before they are hatched.

Eat Cacti in the dry Islands

Yellow Iguana1 intestine full of Guyavitas & some large leaves

All morning descended highest Crater — Glassy Feldspar — red glossy scoriæ:

Iguana1 — shakes head vertically;, hind legs stretched out walks very slowly — sleeps — closes eyes — Eats much Cactus:

run walking from two other carrying it in mouth — Eats very deliberately, without chewing — Small Finc[h] picking from same piece after alights on back —

In the Tent generally 85-80˚ —

Trade wind & sun 77˚ or 78 —

On Rock out of wind 108˚ — —


The Dodo and The Myna

The Dodo is the textbook example of man’s role in driving other species to extinction. This defenceless bird was hunted and harried to disappearance through the appearance of humans on the uninhabited island of what is now called Mauritius. Sailors on the high seas—the Arabs, the Portuguese and then the Dutch, discovered and re-discovered the pristine isle. For dodos, the beginning of the end was in 1598 when the Dutch discovered them on the island. Dodos were flightless birds, and also fearless because they had never encountered predators. So when humans appeared with their guns and weapons, they had no clue how to protect themselves. Moreover, humans brought along dogs, cats, pigs, rats—all which hunted the birds and raided their nests. Till there were none left.


But if this is a story of man’s role in the loss of a species, what follows is an equally sorry tale of havoc cause by man’s deliberate introduction of a species into an alien eco-system. And on the very same island of Mauritius!

Sugarcane did and continues to play a key role in the economy of Mauritius. The sugarcane crop in Mauritius was beset by grasshoppers, which ate the leaves. In the 1780s, the French deliberately introduced mynas to the island to help control these. To a certain extent they did, but soon enough the mynas figured out the local lizards were easier to catch than the grasshoppers, and so made the lizards the mainstay of their diet. One consequence of this was that the insects that the lizards fed on multiplied, as they now had no predators! And even more seriously perhaps, the mynas themselves became pests to native species. Mynas are by nature aggressive and raid nests for eggs and newly hatched chicks. They compete with native birds for nesting sites. In Mauritius, they have been known to compete with an endemic species, the endangered Echo Parakeet, for nesting spaces.

Island ecosystems are very special. Human interventions can have disastrous results. To quote the IUCN Island Ecosystem Specialist Group:

‘Earth is home to over 100,000 islands, which support 20% of global biodiversity. The characteristics of size, shape and degree of isolation make many of these islands ecologically and culturally unique.

However, these same characteristics also make islands fragile and vulnerable ecosystems. Islands have the highest proportion of recorded species extinctions. Eighty percent of known species extinctions have occurred on islands and currently 45 percent of IUCN Red List endangered species occur on islands.’

Mauritius and all islands are beautiful and special! Let’s hope that we humans can preserve what makes them special, and leave the generations to follow this precious legacy.

An interesting aside:  A Mughal-time painting found in St. Petersburg  shows a dodo along with several Indian birds. The painting is believed to be from the 17th century and is attributed to the artist Ustad Mansur. The bird depicted probably lived in Emperor Jahangir’s zoo in Surat!