Words by: Simon Difford
Officially 'The Republic of Mauritius', this tropical island nation lies off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean. It was uninhabited until the Dutch colonised it at the end of the sixteenth century, and named it Mauritius after their prince before abandoning it in 1710.
The French moved in five years later and established the first sugar plantations, manning them with slaves from Africa, Madagascar, China and India, before the British took the island from them in 1810. Mauritius gained independence in 1968 as a constitutional monarchy, with the British queen retained as nominal head of state, and became an independent republic in 1992.
The island was also the only habitat of the famously extinct dodo, a hapless creature which was, to be frank, fairly useless as birds go. The island's isolation and the absence of any natural predator meant the dodo hit an evolutionary brick wall: it was cumbersome, slow and flightless, meaning that when the Dutch arrived they could easily outrun it. Meanwhile, the rats which came on the Dutch ships feasted on the dodo's eggs, sealing its extinction by 1681 and subsequent fame. (Someone just has to produce a limited edition Mauritian dodo rum - this is a brand name crying out for exploitation.)