We have mentioned Mauritius quite a few times over the past two weeks. So today we will show you some of the work we do over there. We are going to join Alex Field, a recent student on Durrell's diploma course in Endangered Speceis Recovery. The course is run in Mauritius and allows students to have hands-on experience with the field projects.
Name: Alex Field
Occupation: Bird Staff, International Centre for Birds of Prey
Animal: Kestrels, parakeets, pigeons.....
Country: UK & Mauritius
Lots of university courses involve lots of boring lectures indoors. Is it the same for the PG Dip Endangered Species Recovery course?
Going to university is an amazing experience; you make lots of new friends, you try new hobbies, and you learn lots of really interesting things! Doing the PG Dip was totally different from going to university however, how? – Well, I lived on a beautiful tropical island for 7 months, I made great friends with people from all over the world including Singapore, Canada, Australia, Holland, the UK, and Mauritius! I worked with some amazing animals such as fruit bats and geckos! And to top it all off I lived close to the beach where we often enjoyed the sun, ate tasty local food, snorkelled and saw lots of beautiful fish!
You visited several different places in Mauritius. Which was your favourite and why?
My favourite place is Round Island, we all went to Round Island as part of the PG Dip; the work there is focused on restoring native plant and animal populations in order to one day bring the island back to its former glory! You need special permission to go on Round Island, so there were only 8 of us there when I went, it felt like I had my own island which was really cool! Also I got to work with amazing animals including giant African tortoises, snakes, geckos, sea birds, and skinks!
Which was the smelliest animal to look after?
The smelliest animal I personally had to look after was an invasive species called the Asian musk shrew! As part of my PG Dip I had to make and run my own project and write an essay about it. Invasive species are really bad for native wildlife and a big part of conservation is controlling their populations. I kept them at my house and I tested them to see whether they preferred a variety of different baits… However, they were very smelly and poo’d and wee’d all in their boxes!
Which was your favourite animal to work with?
We worked with lots of really cool animals, but my favourite had to be the baby fruit bats in the aviaries! The baby fruit bats were so interesting and would fly over to you and crawl all over you whilst you were feeding them! I didn’t just enjoy working with the fruit bats because they were really cute, but also because they are really important for the forests in Mauritius! Fruits bats help disperse seeds, the more bats that Mauritius has the better and bigger the forests are, which I think is amazing! Sadly, however local people don’t like them eating their fruit crops and every year they cull thousands of bats… the wildlife foundation are trying to stop this, and every year there is a big effort to stop the bats from being killed.
In the video above you get bitten by a bat. Did it hurt? Why were the bats on you?
Fruits bats have lots of little sharp teeth and being bitten by an adult fruit bat is meant to be very painful. The bats you see in my vlogs were baby fruit bats and their bite isn’t as powerful and only feels like a scratch! The baby bats were rescued after their parents were believed to have been killed. They got very used to people feeding them and would show lots on interest in you if you went into their enclosure! They mostly crawled on me when I went to feed them, although they were very happy to say hello and would often fly onto me regardless of whether I had food or not.
Did you learn any new skills whilst working in Mauritius?
I learnt lots of new skills working in Mauritius! I learn how to climb trees using slings, ropes, and a harness, I learnt how to measure and record vital information about the body condition of reptiles and birds, I learnt all about island conservation and how to survey a variety of ecosystems, and I learnt how to set traps for catching invasive species like rats! The PG Dip taught me a lot, and not only about conservation and wildlife, it taught me a lot about myself and what impact I can have on wildlife and conservation!
What is your funniest memory of your time working with the Mauritian field projects?
I made lots of amazing memories in Mauritius, and choosing the funniest memory is hard! I think one of the funniest memories I have was when I was on the small island nature reserve Ile Aux Aigrettes! The field team were amazing, we all worked hard together and in the evenings we would all sit down together and eat, tell stories, and laugh a lot! One day myself and two of my Mauritius friends Mala, and Stephan were out searching and measuring Telfair skinks. When we found one, we would catch it, place it in a bag to keep it calm and when we were ready we would take it out of the bag and using a ruler we would measure its body, legs, head, and tail and would write down anything we felt was important such as whether it had any scars etc… Whilst holding the skink Mala accidently loosened her grip and the skink bit her finger! The bite from a skink stings, but isn’t that bad and Mala was fine; we all found this funny because Mala was making lots of squealing noises while this little skink had her finger right in its mouth and really didn’t want to let go!
What is your job now?
I am now working in a zoo that specialises in birds of prey, called the International Centre for Birds of Prey! The centre is located in Newent, a small village in Gloucestershire. My job involves cleaning aviaries, feeding the birds, centre maintenance, flying the birds, doing demonstration to the public, talking with the public and educating them on the centre and bird of prey conservation, and running specialised experience days. I have a fantastic job, I feel very lucky!
How do you think your time in Mauritius helped you on your career path?
My time in Mauritius will forever be one of the best things I have ever done, I can’t recommend it enough! I met incredible people, I lived on a beautiful island for 7 months, I made memories that I will never forget, and I got to work with some amazing animals! My time in Mauritius most definitely helped me get my current job (and my current job is amazing, who can say their job involves flying eagles and hand rearing chicks? I can!), it made me more aware of conservation issues around the world, and it has put me in a fantastic position where I can say I was actively involved in protecting the native wildlife of Mauritius! At the end of my time in Mauritius I also got a great post graduate qualification which is totally different from all other degrees, and my hard work enabled me to publish a piece of work which will now always be available to people around the world looking to conserve wildlife!