Environment, safety
best practice

Since
1921

The Mauritian
Way

An economic
asset

A WHOLE ECOSYSTEM THANKS TO THE DEER

The Rusa deer’s long journey

Protecting a habitat and the right balance

An economic asset

Game delights

THE RUSA DEER’S LONG JOURNEY

The deer living in Mauritius are an « invasive » species, having its origin in the island of Java in the south east of Indonesia. They were introduced in the eastern coast of Mauritius in 1639 by the Dutch settlers. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) had set up a colony in Java in the first decades of the 17th century. When it did the same in Mauritius, the VOC brought here two resources – one for food trade and the other for feeding – that have a pivileged place in the Mauritian economy, history and culture : sugar cane and Rusa deer. 

The first specimens of Rusa deer hence reached Mauritius aboard Dutch sailing ships after having crossed the whole Indian Ocean. Our island was not the only one on which Rusa deer were made to land from Java after a long journey : they have also reached Reunion Island near Mauritius, Borneo, Australia, New Zealand, and several archipegos in the Pacific Ocean – namely Fidji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

In its original habitat in Java, the Rusa deer is hunted by various predators: leopards, wild dogs and crocodiles. There are no such predators in Mauritius and the deer population rapidly increased after the Dutch left the island. During the following centuries under French and British rule, and after Independance, hunting has thus always been the only way to keep that population under control and limit its negative impact on the endemic flora and the fragile Mauritian forests’ ecosystems. Today’s local deer population is about 70,000.

Male deer in Mauritius have nicknames according to the shape and size of their antlers (which also give an idea of their age sometimes). Antlers are shed and grow anew, each year.

  1. The «  daguet  », has only one small horn in the shape of a dagger on each side of the head
  2. The «  three-pickles  » has on each antler three small horns resembling soft-ended pickles 
  3. The «  first-time wood  », bears big antlers for the first time, with tines of varying lengths 
  4. The «  big-deer », which is a rather vague name. Some variations however provide a better way of identifying some specimens: a « young big-deer » is usually of medium size and is sometimes also called a point-bearer in reference to the type of antlers that adorn this category of buck.

The full antlers of deer are shed in December each year. After they have grown again, the buck rubs them against tree trunks to remove the fluffy skin (called velvet) that covers them. They are said to « clear up » or to « touch wood » when doing that. In June, the last bits of skin have fallen : the male deer’s new antlers have fully matured.

Today’s local deer population is about 70,000

PROTECTING A HABITAT AND THE RIGHT BALANCE

With time, since its introduction, deer has become a component of the ecosystem of the natural environment where it lives. Through his feeding habits and roaming mores, it helps in controling some invasive plants and in fertilising the soil. However, it is also itself an « invasive species », having been imported, and it can be a threat to the endemic flora if its own population is not controled.

Deer hunting is hence an asset for Mauritius on several counts. It serves to keep the deer population on check while providing fresh and healthy meat to the local market. It also makes it necessary to maintain hunting grounds, which constitute some of the wild and lush areas of the island – increasingly threatened by urbanisation.

A total of over 80 hunting grounds cover a surface area of 17,000 hectares, mainly in the central, southern, western and eastern parts of Mauritius. Maintaining and protecting them entails expertise, time and money for their owners or lessees. They contribute to the ecological balance, to the rain cycle and to the natural character of the island that fosters the development of ecotourism. Some of these hunting grounds are state-owned assets, which are maintained at no cost for the taxpayers thanks to the fact that they are leased by government to companies or individuals, who take the responsibility of maintainance and control of these lands.

Deer hunting has therefore also indirectly a positive impact on the preservation of a national heritage.

It is necessary to maintain hunting grounds, which constitute some of the wild and lush areas of the island

AN ECONOMIC ASSET

Credit: Agrïa

Deer venison is healthy, as the herds live in the open in a natural environment and feed on plants growing in the wild, while being very active by roaming across forests and savanna-like land. 

That lean meat, free from artificial products, is a favourite among many gourmets. Over 550 tons of locally-produced deer meat reach the Mauritian market each year, for a total sales revenue of Rs 150 million. In addition to this direct contribution to the national economy and to food self-sufficiency, deer hunting creates jobs and it generates additional revenue across the whole supply chain and thanks to hunting events organisation. It also promotes social interaction and a circular economy in several regions of the island. SCIM being also a member of the Mauritius Meat Producers’ Association (MMPA), we also contribute to that organisation’s efforts in developing a sound meat market.

The owners and tenants of hunting grounds, as well as the hunting managers, make it a point to preserve and control the natural assets of these lands and to maintain the deer herds in a healthy condition. These activities also lead to investment and generate revenues that add to the economic dynamics of hunting – namely with more employment and providing food supplements to the deer herds if necessary.

The protected natural environment where the deer thrive, in the well managed hunting grounds, are also an asset for the national economy. Off hunting season, they provide excellent opportunities for trekking and other activities that participate in the growing ecotourism and local tourism trend in Mauritius, adding new avenues in parallel to the traditional sea-sun-sand offering of the Mauritian destination.

Credit: Agrïa

Over 550 tons of locally-produced deer meat reach the Mauritian market each year, for a total sales revenue of Rs 150 million

GAME DELIGHTS

Credit – Gigot de cerf épices douces. Recette de Richard EKKEBUS pour le Royal Palm. Photo Christian Bossu-Picat

With its fine and healthy character, very low fat content and subtle venison taste, deer meat is a favourite in many Mauritian homes from almost all social groups. Stews, curries, and sautéed  deer meals are staples of Mauritian cuisine, especially during the hunting season when fresh meat is available. Deer is therefore – well beyond a source of meat – an ingredient of the local culture and of its especially attractive mix of lifestyles.

There seems to be as many ways to use a recipe for deer as there are homes and cooks in Mauritius… Each family and each restaurant cook has a way to make it even more special, with sometimes the special knowledge needed to prepare and mature some specific cuts.

Preciously preserved recipes from the older generations are still transmitted from mother to daughter,

or son in the preparation of deer offal – with some suprisingly delightful results.

Restaurants often have a special place on their menu. Small local eateries, the outlets in the newly-built posh areas, or the fine restaurants of starred hotels propose their own interpretation of deer stew or of deer dry curry. The best cuts from wild pigs also sometimes find their way in the dishes of such outlets, but hare meat and meals are mostly a home affair.

The attractiveness and market size of deer venison cuisine can therefore be at the root of a healthy circular economy, of an original touristic offering and of social interactions and fellowship around a  delicious deer « gakack » (the local word for  appetisers) or saucy dish.

Credit – Gigot de cerf épices douces. Recette de Richard EKKEBUS pour le Royal Palm. Photo Christian Bossu-Picat

The attractiveness of deer venison cuisine can be at the root of a healthy circular economy and of an original touristic offering

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