Pour la protection de la biodiversité de l'île Rodrigues: Expérience positive de volontaires rodriguais

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La Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) et le Rodrigues Forestry Service mènent à Rodrigues un important projet de restauration et de conservation à Grande Montagne. Projet dont la réussite s'est aussi largement appuyée sur la participation d'un groupe de volontaires de l'île. La MWF fait ici état de cette expérience qui permet un véritable "pas de Gulliver" dans le domaine de la protection de la biodiversité, et, ultimement, de la santé et de l'économie. Et qui pourrait constituer un exemple pour Maurice.

The Grande Montagne Nature Reserve of Rodrigues protects one of the best remnants of Rodriguan upland native forest. Even so, this area of forest used to be extremely highly invaded by alien weed species. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of conservationists, the reserve has now been substantially restored with native Rodriguan plants. The conservation work involves hand-removal of alien weeds (often fully grown shrubs and trees) propagation of tens of thousands of native plants every year carrying these plants up the very steep slopes of Grande Montagne - and planting and then caring for these plants during their establishment.

The success of Grande Montagne's restoration has been possible partly through the hard work of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) Rodrigues team and the Rodrigues Forestry Service. However, the project could not have been nearly so successful without the effort of a small army of Rodriguan volunteers who have freely donated their time to help restore the unique natural heritage of their island.

Recently the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation organised a day of thanks for these unsung heros. Volunteers were presented with certificates of thanks by the Minister for Rodrigues during a ceremony at l'Escale Vacances Hotel, Port Maturin. Minister Lesjongard spoke of the destruction of nature over the past 300 years in Rodrigues. This destruction was due to people the Minister pointed out and it was nice to see that so many people are now trying to put it right. Mr Lesjongard looked forward to an age when more and more of the youth of Rodrigues will be helping to look after their environment.

Mr. Felix Maurel, MWF's acting chairman, was visiting the Rodrigues project for the first time and was extremely impressed by what he saw. He stressed the importance of community involvement in the Rodrigues project and he spoke about how the Rodriguan model could be used to help restore areas in Mauritius.

Dr John Mauremootoo, MWF Plant Conservation Manager, the overall manager of MWF's ecosystem restoration work in Rodrigues, pointed to the sad fact that throughout the world native species are going extinct at an increasing rate. In contrast, thanks to the work of MWF and the Rodrigues Forestry Service, Rodrigues is in a situation where much of its unique wildlife is increasing in numbers - although there is still a lot of work to do before the plants and animals of Rodrigues can be said to have been saved. The success of the project in Rodrigues was certainly due to improving knowledge of how to propagate rare plants. However, it was more than anything a triumph of people, in particular those who gave their time freely for something they believed in.

Mr Richard Payendee, MWF's Rodrigues Conservation Manager, who is in charge of MWF's work in Rodrigues has been instrumental in bringing in many of the young volunteers into the Rodrigues project. Payendee recalled his experiences: "when I joined the forestry service in 1987, I began to learn about the Rodriguan plants with my boss Mr. Hugot Meunier. I also worked with volunteers from abroad and wondered why they could come all this way to protect the Rodriguan environment for nothing and we Rodriguans could not do this. I concluded that it was lack of knowledge." With the conservation work of MWF, Forestry and the work of the MWF Community Educator Mary Jane Raboude many more Rodriguans have learned about the conservation work on the island and have come out in large numbers to help to restore the nature reserves of Rodrigues.

Fourteen volunteers have worked full time for MWF, some for nearly two years. Three of these are now on the MWF staff in Rodrigues. Many more have helped part time including the Jeune Chambre Economique de Rodrigues, the Trois Soleil Scouts group and the Malartic Scouts group who have adopted plots in the Grande Montagne nature reserve. Payendee described the restoration work as being like a drug of the most positive kind once people see the results of their work they just fell they have to come back and help again. Here are the stories of four of those stars who have made so much effort and have become addicted to conservation volunteering.

19 year old John Cliff Jean from Malartic has been volunteering with MWF for 18 months. He is one of those people who can be relied upon to help any time he is needed. Typically, he was helping to fetch water for the plants in the nursery from St. Gabriel cattle station on New Year's day this year.

"Mary Jane Raboude talked about MWF work with the Malartic Scouts group. She talked about the possibility of volunteering for MWF. I contacted Payendee and he accepted. I like the work MWF is doing even if it is very hard sometimes. I can help to save our unique heritage. I like the team's way of doing things and I like the exchange with other volunteers from elsewhere.I will always volunteer for MWF even if I get another job. My hope is that Rodrigues can return to how it was before with native plants growing everywhere and I hope that the birds can come back, even the ones that are extinct!! If ever MWF stops its activities in Rodrigues, I will continue to propagate the plants at home and plant back in the wild."

Shirley Prosper, 25 from St. Gabriel was helping on Saturdays with a group of Malartic scouts. She immediately got interested in the work and in April 2000 asked for possibility of volunteering on a daily basis.

"The environment in which MWF works and the teams is exceptional and we not only learn about plants. We discuss everything else, so we learn a lot about other things too. I like the exchange, which happens with expatriate volunteers as well.I hope that the friendship between MWF and Paid Staff and Volunteers stays even if we leave. I hope that this work continues and other Rodriguans take over when necessary to help save our flora and fauna. Even if in the future I get another job I will always help the MWF team in my free time."

Harel Begue is 21 Years old and lives in Grand Baie. In 1997 he visited Grand Montagne Nature Reserve in 1997 with Payendee who he knew through his family. He immediately became interested in conservation. He finished school in February 1999 but had no job and stayed at home all day. He heard of the possibility of volunteering from with MWF and started in March 2000. He is currently MWF's longest serving volunteer in any project, either in Rodrigues or in Mauritius.

"I immediately started learning about endemic plants and propagation techniques. My interest increased as I mastered nursery techniques. I am now one of those responsible for the nursery.I will continue to volunteer until I get a paid job preferably in this field.I like the team spirit which prevails and the things I am learning from the experienced of staff of MWF.In my free time I can still collect seeds or come to help in the nursery. My hope is to see Grand Montagne and Anse Quitor Nature Reserve are fully restored and everybody plants endemic plants in their garden and flora of Rodrigues is never again threatened."

Marie France, 18 learned about the restoration work through Louis Manan a Forestry labourer.

" I talked to Manan, who used to work in Grande Montagne Nature Reserve on the possibility of helping planting trees in Rodrigues. He channelled me to MWF who I never heard of before. I started as a volunteer in February 2001 and am still working.I have learned the endemic plants and their importance of conserving the flora which makes me want to volunteer till I got a paid job, hopefully in the field. The team is like my second family.My hope is that endemic plants are planted everywhere on the island, that Rodriguans help protecting them, the reserves are fully restored and open to visitors and tourists. I will like to see the family enlarge."

With the enthusiasm and commitment of people like John Cliff, Shirley, Harel and Marie France their hopes can become a reality.

And the family is indeed already growing. Under funding from the GEF-UNDP Small Grants Programme Mary-Jane Raboude and Emma Bilan (MWF Rodrigues Philadelphia Zoo/GEF-UNDP Educators) and the MWF Rodrigues Conservation Team are now working with 230 families from 4 groups of villages in Rodrigues. The aim of the joint project is to plant restored native forests, managed by these local communities for sustainable-harvesting of useful plants. The communities wish to plant a wide range of uniquely Rodriguan (endemic) plant species which they use to make crafts (of vacoas & latanier) and botanical medicines. Previously local people would have harvested these plants from rapidly decreasing wild populations, and from nature reserves (even though plants are officially protected in reserves). So the community-managed forests will not only produce plants for use, but also protect endangered wild populations.

Rodriguan conservation volunteers and community-led native forest restoration project are thus taking a Gulliver's step further into tackling biodiversity conservation problems that are important to local health and economy, as well as to the protection of endangered species.

Rodrigues is in a situation where much of its unique wildlife is increasing in numbers - although there is still a lot of work to do

The success of the project in Rodrigues was more than anything a triumph of people

Le Week End 9 Decembre 2001