There are several national parks, including the Morne Trois Pitons (17,000 acres) in the south, the Central Forest Reserve and the Northern Forest Reserve, which together protect rainforest covering much of the island’s mountainous interior.
At the highest levels on the island is elfin woodland, characterized by dense vegetation and low-growing plants. Elfin woodland and high montane thicket give way to rainforest at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,500 ft, extending over about 60% of the island. Despite the large area of forest, protection is essential against cutting for farmland and other economic pressures, as a water source and as a unique facility for scientific research. It is hoped that tourism can coexist with conservation, since any losses, for whatever reason, would be irreversible.
The Cabrits Peninsula in the northwest was declared a national park in 1986. Covering 1,313 acres, its twin hills covered by dry forest, is separated from the island by marshland (a pier and cruise ship reception centre have been built) which is a nesting place for herons and doves and hosts a variety of migrant bird species. A walk through the woods and around the buildings of Fort Shirley (abandoned in 1854) will reveal much flora and wildlife. The scuttling hermit (or soldier) and black crabs, ground lizard (abòlò) and tree lizard are most visible.
Dominica is a botanist’s & a birdwatcher’s paradise. In addition to the huge variety of trees, many of which flower in March and April, there are orchids and wild gardens of strange plant life in the valleys. Bwa Kwaib or Carib wood (Sabinea carinalis) was declared the national flower in 1978 which can be found mostly growing along parts of the west coast.
Indigenous birds to the island are the Imperial parrot, or Sisserou (amazona imperialis), which is critically endangered, and its marginally less threatened relative, the Red-necked parrot, or Jacquot (amazona arausiaca). The Sisserou has been declared the national bird. They can be seen in the Syndicate area in the northwest which is now a protected reserve and the site of a future information and research centre for visitors and scientists (accessible by four-wheel drive only). There is a nature trail but signs are difficult to spot. The parrots are most evident during their courting season, in April and early May. To get the best from a parrot-watching trip, it is worth taking a guide. Bertrand Jno Baptiste, of the Forestry Division (T4482401) is highly recommended and charges EC$80 a group. While there are other rare species, such as the Forest Thrush and the Blue-headed hummingbird, there are a great many others which are easily spotted (the Purple-throated Carib and Antillean-crested hummingbirds, for instance), or heard (the Siffleur Montagne). Waterfowl can be seen on the lakes, waders on the coastal wetlands (many are migrants). There are various bat caves, most particularly at Thiband on the northeast coast.
There are fewer species of mammal (agouti, manicou-opossum, wild pig and bats), but there is a wealth of insect life (for example, over 55 species of butterfly) and reptiles. Besides those mentioned above, there is the rare iguana, the crapaud (a large frog, eaten under the name of mountain chicken) and five snakes, none poisonous (includes the boa constrictor, or tête-chien). Certain parts of the coast are used as nesting grounds by sea turtles (hawksbill, leatherback and green). As a result of over-hunting, the Forestry Division has extended the close season for hunting wildlife like crapaud. Visitors should be mindful of this when thinking about ordering such foods in restaurants.
The Forestry Division in the Botanical Gardens, Roseau, has a wide range of publications, trail maps, park guides, posters and leaflets (some free) on Dominica’s wildlife and National Parks, T4482401, F4487999.