1 - An ecological history of the Mascarene Islands, with particular reference to extinctions and introductions of land vertebrates  pp. 5-89

An ecological history of the Mascarene Islands, with particular reference to extinctions and introductions of land vertebrates

By A. S. Cheke

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Although a great deal has been written about the history, both human and biological, of the Mascarenes, there has been no synthesis of the available material from an ecological point of view; this chapter is an attempt to fill this gap. I make no apologies for covering ground familiar to Mascarene specialists, since there is at present no suitable introductory work for biologists new to the area; also much of the original material is rare, and even many of the secondary sources are not easily accessible outside the islands themselves.

Already known to Arab navigators, the Mascarenes were ‘discovered’ by Europeans in the early sixteenth century. The exact dates at which each island was first sighted by the Portuguese have long been a matter of debate, but are of little concern here as no useful accounts of Portuguese visits apparently survive. North-Coombes (1980b) reviewed the history of Portuguese movements in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century and concluded that they very rarely landed in the Mascarenes, and then probably only on Reunion. The most they appear to have left us by way of description is a note in 1728 that “Santa Apelonia” (=Reunion) had “plenty of fresh water, trees, birds and fish” (ibid.). The next description of the islands dates from the Dutch visit to Mauritius in 1598 (see e.g. Pitot 1905, Barnwell 1948). Réunion was described briefly by Verhuff in 1611 but the earliest adequate account is Tatton's in 1613 (Tatton 1625, Lougnon 1970). Only the scantiest accounts of Rodrigues exist prior to Leguat's 2-year stay on the island in 1691-3 (North-Coombes 1971).