Original of the Species

A few people have been asking me whether I have seen any unusual animals. The truth is, I haven’t yet seen anything particularly surprising. And no, I haven’t seen a shark yet, but that’s probably for the best.

A new thing for me – although I know it is commonplace in some parts of continental Europe – is seeing lizards everywhere. I frequently stumble across them in the street or perceive them as they dart from my peripheral vision. They also like to pay me a visit at home. I find them quite endearing; the way that they scuttle about and then suddenly stop is funny, and the little baby ones are irresistibly cute.

I have come across the tangue (a ‘tailless tenrec’ in English, apparently), an animal that lives in Madagascar and nearby islands, and which is somewhere between a hedgehog and a ferret. So not a particularly glamorous animal, I’ll be honest. Whilst walking in Mafate, I encountered a man who had killed a tangue and was taking it home to cook. The spiky, lifeless corpse didn’t look particularly appetising, but I’m sure it made for a good carry.

I've seen more fish on a plate than I have in the sea. This dish was mérou (grouper) and vivaneau (snapper?) fish.
I’ve seen more fish on a plate than I have in the sea. This dish was mérou (grouper) and vivaneau (snapper?) fish.

People have dogs and cats for pets, although the strong ‘man and his dog’ bond which is so engrained in British culture seems less apparent here. There are a lot of feral dogs; however, these are generally small and seem quite harmless. Roosters are quite common, and some are still used for cockfighting, a ‘sport’ which can be lucrative (if you bet on the right one), despite the practise being officially banned by the French state.

Rather than search for unusual animals, I prefer to invest my time and energy in trying to avoid the local range of insects, many of whom are intent on ganging up on me and show no sign of remorse. Insects include large beetles, big orange wasps and, of course, mosquitos.

The constant presence of various insects has given me the chance to master several insect-killing techniques. For mosquitos, if you react quickly enough, a hand clap should do it. If you’re too slow, try to move on with your life in the knowledge that the elusive mosquito is lying in wait somewhere nearby, ready to strike when you’re not looking. Fruit flies are stupid and don’t seem to see their death coming, even as the side of my fist descends upon them. Wandering ants are easy to smudge dead with the end of the finger. In my experience, a wandering ant usually signifies a horde somewhere nearby, in which case it’s time for the spray. You get the idea.

After my previous post, I was relieved to enjoy light showers on two days this week. But of course the rain and the damp encourage sinister activities amongst the local insect population. Imagine my terror when, returning home amid a late afternoon shower, I was ambushed by two mosquitos outside my front door. Not only a two pronged attack, but planned to strike me when I was at my weakest – returning home at the end of the day with a backpack and two bags of groceries. It is horrifying incidents such as this that have irreversibly tarnished my time in Reunion so far. And it can only get worse.*

The image of the extinct dodo is used for the local Bourbon beer. In fact, the beer is referred to as Dodo.
The image of the extinct dodo is used for the local Bourbon beer. In fact, the beer is referred to as Dodo.

Regarding animals, it should also be noted that the long extinct dodo is a constant presence today in La Réunion thanks to its use by the local Bourbon beer company. Their dodo image is everywhere, as is the beer itself, and one therefore assumes (as I’m sure many locals do) that the real dodos used to live here. However, the association between the dodo and La Réunion is tenuous, to say the least. Dodos only actually lived on Mauritius. 17th and 18th century accounts believed that a white dodo had existed in La Réunion. However, this turned out to be a mistake, the result of confusion with the island ibis, now also extinct. To be honest, I prefer the beer-fuelled myth. The ibis, rather like the tangue, is just not so glamorous.

*Please understand that this post is not written with complete sincerity.


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