© Fred PAYET
In these archipelagos, where Tahiti is the largest island with 1,000 km2, land wildlife is relatively scarce. Although there a few rare insects, there are no reptiles (with the exception of the gold dust day gecko) or dangerous animals.
For the most part, land animals in French Polynesia are those that were introduced by seafarers: dogs, cats, goats, chickens, pigs, cows and horses. In the Marquesas Islands, wild horses run free through the mountains where galloping herds render the landscape all the more magical.
Chickens lay their eggs in the underbrush or in right in the sand on some atolls as crabs look on hungrily. Goats scamper up precipitous slopes with absolute surefootedness, while entire families of small black or spotted pigs can be found in forests of māpē, or Tahitian chestnut, or seen nestling in the prop roots of pandanus palms, from which you would be wise not to dislodge them. But this is what hunters, eager for their delicious meat, do at their peril!
© Thierry ZYSMAN
There are 33 species of landbirds in French Polynesia, of which 26 are native to Tahiti and its surrounding islands, and 28 species of seabirds. The most beautiful specimens can be seen while hiking in the mountains or on outings to certain motu (islets). In fact, many of these islets are both stopover sites for migratory birds and sanctuaries for native species. Frigatebirds, or 'otaha, are large seabirds that are frequently sighted. During the mating season, males inflate their scarlet throat pouches during their courtship displays. You can also catch a glimpse of the blue-footed booby, which will hide its enormous fuzzy chicks in the miki miki bushes at the first sign of intruders.
The high valleys are home to swiftlets (a kind of chubby beige tit) and harriers, while kingfishers ('uriri) and small herons ('otu'u) share the riverbanks. At sunset, where these rivers meet the sea, you can watch the Pacific swallow as it performs swirling arabesques in the sky.