- Work has begun on the South-Eastern Highway in Mauritius, which according to environmentalists is "cutting a swathe through some of the last remaining good quality forest in this part of Mauritius." The new road, they hold, could devastate part of the forest heartland of the Mauritius kestrel bird, one of the world's flagship conservation success stories.
The Mauritian kestrel was once the world's rarest bird. From near extinction in the 1970s, its population has grown to between 800 and 1000 individuals, thanks to a captive breeding and reintroduction programme run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the government of Mauritius.
According to the environmentalist group BirdLife, the recovery of the Mauritius kestrel is "one of the world's greatest species conservation success stories." The south-eastern forest is home to half the world population, centred around the Ferney Valley, where the first reintroductions took place.
Ferney Valley, however, is in the path of both proposed routes for the new highway, the environmentalists lament. The South-Eastern Highway will pose a great threat to the unique and preserved ecosystem of this part of Mauritius, the group fears.
- Kestrels hunt for geckos inside the forest and require a habitat with high tree canopy and little undergrowth for their survival, according to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the island's biggest conservation group. "This type of forest is typical of native forest and this area still contains a significant amount of relatively good habitat," MWF adds.
According to the Mauritian group, "Opening up the forest by building a road speeds up the invasion of the habitat by introduced species and leads to its rapid degradation, not only during the disturbance while the road is being built, but also afterwards, as it acts as a corridor for invasive animals and plants to travel along."
Also Roger Safford of BirdLife International regrets the new road. "The east coast mountains, with their forests and native wildlife, are one of the most unspoilt and diverse regions of this unique island, with numerous rare plant and animal species. It is impossible to see how this development could not be detrimental to the environment and biodiversity of Mauritius," said Mr Safford.
Two consultants have prepared advice on which of two routes is less environmentally damaging, and what could be done to mitigate or compensate for the damage done by the road. The Mauritian government however ruled out consideration of a third route which would skirt round the area, citing contractual penalties, which would have to be paid to the contractors if the Ferney Valley route were abandoned.
The road is funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB). The MWF has been lobbying both the government and the AfDB to consider alternative routes, or at very least to ensure that harm to the biodiversity of the area is minimised.
- AfDB's message was very confusing, says the MWF. "On the one hand they say they will not finance a project they believe to be detrimental to the environment and biodiversity of a country, but the next minute they say the ball is in the court of your government..."
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