Our island's wildlife is composed of its fauna. Several species lived in Mauritius and many of them have been extinct. A well-known example is the Dodos and the Aphanapteryx, which disappeared in the 17th century. Due to human activities and cruelties, most of our native endemic animals' survival is being threatened. Fortunately, with the immense efforts on conservation plans and acute measures for their protection by certain bodies, such as the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, gradually, most of these endemic species have been rescued.
Our climate also plays an important role in the living adaptation of many animals. This is why Mauritius cannot inhabit some species as they will not survive for too long. The Dutch introduced the stags from Sumatra, some giant tortoises came from Seychelles, reptiles such as the Thyphlops Brahminus from India, the monkeys from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and so on. Today, the locals have the opportunity to encounter popular African animals on their own soil, like the rhinoceros, ostriches, zebras, giraffes, etc.
But what about elephants? Actually, we do not have any elephants in Mauritius, however, that was not the case before. And this article will make you discover it!
In the book, The Mauritius Register: Historical, Official & Commercial, dated 1859, compiled by Palmer and Bradshaw, it is mentioned that an elephant was kept at Labourdonnais Estate. It is crystal clear, the elephant existed in that period and lived among the inhabitants.
The Labourdonnais Estate is located in the North of Mauritius Island, where it sits the famous "Château de Labourdonnais", which was founded by Christian Wiehe in 1858. The estate itself existed since the early 1820s and was owned by Jacques de Chasteigner Dumée. A sugar mill was constructed in that era and in 1915, it was annexed by Belle Vue Harel, until it ceased to operate in 1960, dismantled, to establish in Hippo Valley, Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
The Mysterious Elephant
Based on archive records from the Château de Labourdonnais, it is reported the elephant was imported from India by Adrien D’Epinay, in the end of 1830s. Adrien D’Epinay, the father of the great sculptor, Prosper D’Epinay, who contributed enormously in the standard of living of slaves in the 1830s, was also the co-partner of Jacques de Chasteigner Dumée on Labourdonnais sugar estate.
From an inhabitant’s journal, it is revealed that Adrien D’Epinay brought the elephant to work in sugarcane fields and to transport sugarcanes to the sugar mill as a trial. The elephant was popular among the villagers, in fact, it used to accomplish certain mechanical tasks at the windmill of Labourdonnais.
Even Adrien D’Epinay imported the animal, he did not own it! The real owner was the engineer Llyod, reputed for designing the Grand-River North West bridge in 1837.
The Voyage Of Charles Darwin
In 1835, Charles Darwin, the naturalist, biologist and a pioneer in the contribution of the Science of evolution, came to Mauritius. At that time, he resided at the engineer Lloyd’s residence, at Beau-Bassin. It is believed Charles Darwin used to visit the island on the back of the elephant, which engineer Llyod offered as opportunities to ride.
When engineer Lloyd returned to England after that, the elephant stayed in Labourdonnais Estate. There is a high possibility, it was given to the estate, but there is no evidence for this.
40 Years Of Living
The elephant lived for about 40 years in the estate, until died and was buried in a sugarcane field. However, the exact location of the burial place is unknown. Bear in mind, there is no evidence that it was mistreated in the estate. In fact, there are records the animal was happy and it used to roam around the island with no problem. An extract from Simonin, the traveller, dated 1877, can be seen below, which revealed the animal was happy in its own world in the estate:
The question of introducing elephants in Mauritius was debated before. In the beginning of the 1820s, Charles Telfair was advised by Mr Kidd, from Calcutta, to import elephants to carry timber from the forest of Bel Ombre to the sea-shore. But it never happened!
This is the story of the only elephant in the colony. Mauritius did welcome elephants before, nevertheless, they came only for entertainments such as in circus events. To conclude, the question remains, if an elephant lived here for 40 years without issues, will we have the chance to get such an animal on our soil again?
This article has been achieved with the tremendous help of Bernard Maurice, museum curator & coordinator of the amazing Château de Labourdonnais. Please check out Château de Labourdonnais website for more details.
Palmer & Bradshaw (The Mauritius Register: Historical, Official & Commercial, 1859).
Guy Rouillard (Histoire des domaines Sucriers de l'Île Maurice).
Charles Telfair (Some Account of the State of Slavery at Mauritius: Since the British Occupation in 1810).
Louis Simonin (Revue Historique et Littéraire de l'île Maurice. L'île Maurice et la société mauricienne, 1877).
Proceedings de la Société Royale des Arts 1859.
Archives Fonds Wiehe, Château de Labourdonnais.
AUTHOR: Ali J (Administrator)
PUBLISHED DATE: May 4, 2021
LAST EDITED: May 6, 2021
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