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Mayotte, l'île aux parfums.

By Jean-Jacques Segalen (jjacquesOctober 25, 2012
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Mayotte Island is part of the Comoros archipelago, a small group of four islands set between Northwestern Madagascar and the coast of Tanzania/Mozambique, at the Northern entry of the Mozambique channel. It belongs to France and has some interesting fauna and flora so let’s explore it together!

Gardening picture(Editor's Note:This article was originally published on June 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

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The Comoros archipelago lies about 1500km from Reunion and 8000km from Paris and is not a well-known area of the world. Some pottery remains attest that it was discovered by Bantu sailors during the seventh century but was conquered much later on by Arabs travellers who set a sultanate there. The Portuguese navigators ran upon the islands in 1503 while roaming along the African coast and were therefore the first ones to map them. The French people took hold of Madagascar and then the Comoros in 1841 when it became a French colony

. After some turmoil the Comoros decided to become independent in 1974 but Mayotte voted to stay French and has the official status of Territorial Colectivity, so not a full Over-sea  Department like Reunion but still part of the republic. The other islands of the Comoros are Grande Comores, Mohéli and Anjouan that have set up the Union des Comores and still claim Mayotte as part of the archipelago.Image

 

 

 

 

Mayotte Island is often referred to as ‘l'île aux parfums' which simply means ‘the perfumes island' because it has had a long history of growing Cananga odorata trees that provide the ylang-ylang, a well-known perfume basis for the perfume industry. It is also called the hippocampus island as the shape reminds of this strange sea creature. Just like Reunion and  the Mascareignes, Mayotte is a volcanic island which can be seen from the various remains of volcanoes towering at 660m high for the Benara Mount, 599 for the Choungui, 572 for the Mtsapere and 477 for the Combani, the Pamandzi lake is set in a former calderas and its green waters are saturated with sulphur. Of course as it is some 7.7 millions years old, volcanic activity has completely stopped while the volcano on Grande Comore is still active and blows ashes and lava every once in a while.Image The island consist of two parts, Grande Terre which is by far the largest part with some 363 square km (roughly 40km by 22) and Petite Terre about 11 square km where the airport is found, so after landing you have to take a barge to travel to Grande Terre. There are also several hundreds of coral islets scattered in the lagoon. The whole island is surrounded by a large coral reef which makes one of the largest coral lagoon in the world, about 1100 square km. Climate is tropical with a yearly average temperature of 23 to 30°C and roughly a dry season from April to September and a rain season from October to March. Last population count numbered to 216 000 inhabitants. People of Mayotte mostly originate from Eastern Africa and speak Shimaore which belongs to the Swahili language, a smaller part of the people speak Shibushi which is a dialect from Madagascar and while French remains the official tongue and will get you by all over the place you may often be confronted to people who completely ignore French. There is also a very important illegal immigration from the other islands of the Comoros as they have a very low economical situation that sometimes turns into social uproars. 98% of inhabitants are Muslims and both Islamic rules and French laws are applied which at times make things rather complicate to settle matters...Mayotte Island is often referred to as ‘l'île aux parfums' which simply means ‘the perfumes island' because it has had a long history of growing Cananga odorata trees that provide the ylang-ylang, a well-known perfume basis for the perfume industry. It is also called the hippocampus island as the shape reminds of this strange sea creature. Just like Reunion and  the Mascareignes, Mayotte is a volcanic island which can be seen from the various remains of volcanoes towering at 660m high for the Benara Mount, 599 for the Choungui, 572 for the Mtsapere and 477 for the Combani, the Pamandzi lake is set in a former calderas and its green waters are saturated with sulphur.Image Of course asImage it is some 7.7 millions years old, volcanic activity has completely stopped while the volcano on Grande Comore is still active and blows ashes and lava every once in a while. The island consist of two parts, Grande Terre which is by far the largest part with some 363 square km (roughly 40km by 22) and Petite Terre about 11 square km where the airport is found, so after landing you have to take a barge to travel to Grande Terre. There are also several hundreds of coral islets scattered in the lagoon. The whole island is surrounded by a large coral reef which makes one of the largest coral lagoon in the world, about 1100 square km. Climate is tropical with a yearly average temperature of 23 to 30°C and roughly a dry season from April to September and a rain season from October to March. Last population count numbered to 216 000 inhabitants. People of Mayotte mostly originate from Eastern Africa and speak Shimaore which belongs to the Swahili language, a smaller part of the people speak Shibushi which is a dialect from Madagascar and while French remains the official tongue and will get you by all over the place you may often be confronted to people who completely ignore French. There is also a very important illegal immigration from the other islands of the Comoros as they have a very low economical situation that sometimes turns into social uproars. 98% of inhabitants are Muslims and both Islamic rules and French laws are applied which at times make things rather complicate to settle matters...

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Most of the island has been deforested in the 20th century when sugarcane was the main crop and land was cleared for the fields while the trees were felt to provide sugar plants with energy. Since the decline of sugar cane part of the land has turned into secondary forests but the remaining of primary forests are only found on very steep locations. Plants are a mix of African and Malagasy species with the few odd endemic orchids and shrubs. A very distinctive shape in the South of the island comes from the African baobab, Adansonia digitata, very well suited to the rather arid weather. Those amazing trees which definitely remind of elephants have a very massive trunk and grey bark, they produce large nocturnal flowers pollinated by bats which give birth to large fruits the size of a water melon, with a very hard shell, full of seeds engulfed in a white meat with high C vitamin level. Another gigantic plant is the huge vine Entada rheedii, of the Leguminosae family that can grow stems several hundred meters and produce pods up to two meter long. Commercial crops coImagensist mainly of ylang-ylang as stated above, cloves, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, manioc and bananas. Bananas are a very important food source, the plantain or cooking bananas being the main crop. Other common species in gardens are papaya, mangoes, orange trees, coconuts, passion fruits and breadfruits. ImageImage

Animal life is quite rich both on land and in the sea. Probably one of the nicest animals is undoubtfully the ‘maki' or Eulemur fulvur mayottensis, a lemur originating from Madagascar and which is now found all over the island. It is a lovely animal the size of a big cat, with brown hair and a black face, a long tail which it uses for balance. They live in groups in the forests and some come to houses to get fruits. They move in trees like monkeys but are void of aggressiveness and always take hold of handed bananas in the most delicate way. The lagoon is very rich with an amazing choice of fishes, from the tiny stripped ones hiding amongst corals to the large mammals, dolphins and whales. Two species of marine turtles are commonly seen feeding close to the shore, Chelonia mydas and Eretrochelys imbricata which can also be spotted at night on the beaches when they come up to lay eggs, a very impressive thing to be seen. Though both species are protected it is not rare that they would be killed by poachers who get an easy supply of fresh meat.Image

Tourism is far from being developed, the island remains away from large aerial routes with planes flying only from Reunion and Paris, hotels are still rare and tourism has not yet polluted the place but for how long?Image


  About Jean-Jacques Segalen  
Jean-Jacques SegalenI am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) for 22 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it out at barbardine.com

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Is this lemur specific to this island? gloria125 6 30 Oct 30, 2012 9:03 AM
exotic plants sellers showpod 3 17 May 7, 2009 12:31 PM
Tourists cyra 1 15 Jul 1, 2008 9:31 AM
Mayotte Island NSgarden 1 18 Jun 30, 2008 1:02 PM
Beautiful Sharran 2 17 Jun 30, 2008 4:07 AM
Fascinating article Dea 5 34 Jun 29, 2008 6:11 PM
Interesting libellule 3 21 Jun 29, 2008 11:54 AM
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