On 20 October we set off from Mahe for Mayotte, an island in the Comores that is administered as a French Departement. It lies about 1400 kilometres south-west of Mahe but by air there is no direct route. We had to fly to Reunion, overnight in a hotel and the next day fly to Mayotte. The latter section of the journey gave us our first glimpse of Madagascar, by far the largest island in the south-west Indian Ocean and home to a wide variety of animals found nowhere else on Earth. This includes the entire mammalian family of lemurs and all of the birds in the Vanga family, among many other groups of birds, some now extinct like the infamous Elephant Bird. However, some birds of the Madagascan mainland appear to have spread to nearby islands, where they have evolved into new subspecies, and some possibly into new species.
Our view of Madagascar from 10,000 metres did not reveal much detail but it appeared as a scorched earth country, which it has become as a result of massive forest destruction and extreme poverty among the Malagasy population.
On our approach to Mayotte we had wonderful views of the island and its extensive barrier reef. This encloses a large shallow lagoon, dotted with a few small islets, and quite different from the fringing reefs typical of the granitic Seychelles. The main island, “Grand Terre”, was revealed as a lush green woodland, while the smaller islands were arid, much drier and with a generally more desiccated appearance. One small islet, however, appeared as a white circle: Islote de Sable Blanc stood out as a coral sand bank, while most of the beaches on the mainland were brown, betraying the volcanic origins of the mainland’s sand.
The airstrip, big enough to cater for large jets, is on an islet off the mainland’s north-east coast, and all arriving people aiming for the main island have to transfer by a frequent ferry service.
On our arrival we collected a pre-booked hire car, crossed on the ferry and began our three-week adventure, involving exploration of the island and its habitats, meetings to discuss bird management and conservation with government bodies and NGOs, and absorbing the sights and sounds of what for us was an entirely new culture, combining Mahorais and French languages and attitudes to life.