Working for birds in Africa


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 14:09 -- abc_admin

Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus female, Vallee de l'Est, Mauritius

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, Combo, Mauritius

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

Eighteen state owned Nature Reserves and one National Park cover a total of 7,413 ha, less than 50 ha of which are on Rodrigues. The Black River Gorges National Park protects 44% of the native vegetation and a larger proportion of the native bird species of Mauritius.

Native species and ecosystems on both Mauritius and Rodrigues are threatened by the invasion of exotic species, habitat destruction and predation. Other environmental issues are water pollution and the degradation of coral reefs.

Mauritius is party to a number of international treaties including Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution and Wetlands.

Work has begun on a new road which passes through the Mauritius East Coast Mountains IBA and an area of forest which is important for globally threatened species such as Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus.

Iles aux Aigrettes, a 26 ha offshore islet, harbours the last remnant of coastal ebony forest in Mauritius. The island reserve has at present 20% of the world population of Pink Pigeons Nesoenas mayeri and is equipped with a native plant nursery producing 45,000 plants annually.

The wild population of Pink Pigeons Nesoenas mayeri stands at approximately 350. Unfortunately, the population has been declining slightly since January last when there were 363 birds. This fluctuation is normal and not alarming but shows there is still much work to be done to increase the number of individuals to the target figure of 600. Source: Mauritian Wildlife Fund Newsletter No.2 (2005).

Conservation News

14th September 2007: More birds than ever face extinction – but success stories highlight way forward.

As the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals the scale of the escalating extinction crisis occurring across the planet, an unobtrusive parakeet from Mauritius is showing that, with funding and dedicated fieldworkers, species can recover from the brink of extinction.

Released today, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals that unprecedented numbers of species are now threatened with extinction. For birds, the Red List is maintained by BirdLife International, who report that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction. The overall conservation status of the world’s birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed.

189 birds are now listed as Critically Endangered - the highest threat category. Yet even among these severely threatened birds is a small number whose survival odds are improving, providing case-studies to others for how species can be successfully saved. The most encouraging recovery seen in the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was Mauritius (Echo) Parakeet, once dubbed “the rarest parrot on Earth”.

Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques – a green parrot, males of which have a bright red bill - was once down to just 10 birds in the 1970s, but today saw the World Conservation Union (IUCN) announce its move from Critically Endangered to Endangered. “Mauritius Parakeet is an inspiring example of how species can be helped to recover even from the brink of extinction,” commented Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Coordinator.

In the last century the species has suffered from a multitude of threats all of which contributed to substantial declines; yet concerted actions, involving local and international conservationists, the government and people of Mauritius with support from an array of international funders has seen the species’ chances of survival improve.

“Our work in saving other Critically Endangered birds on Mauritius has taught us that you must tackle the root causes of decline and be prepared to address these issues first,” says Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the island’s sole terrestrial conservation NGO. For Mauritius Parakeet, these threats included introduced nest predators (in particular Black Rat), decline of the native fruits on which the parakeets feed (itself outcompeted by invasive non-native plants, and eaten by feral pigs), and a loss of suitable nesting sites.

“These parrots only naturally nest in old canopy trees, which are disappearing across the island,” Vikash explains. “Many years of hard work went into tackling the shortage of nest sites and finally we’ve come up with a design acceptable to Echo Parakeets and requiring less maintenance. The parakeets now nest in artificial cavities more than the traditional nest cavities.” “The artificial cavities also control for invasive nest predators – another long-term threat to the birds,” Vikash continues. “The boxes are rat-proofed, overhanging trees are trimmed, we poison for rats on the ground, and staple plastic sheeting around trees to reduce predation of eggs and chicks by rats. These are simple but essential measures to help get the population back on its feet.”

This is the third such downlisting to occur on Mauritius in recent years due to the efforts of MWF. In 2000, Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, down to just nine birds a decade earlier, was downlisted to Endangered and now numbers 400 birds. Likewise, Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, went from just four birds in 1974 and now numbers approximately 1,000 individuals.

On being asked the secret of their success Vikash answers: “It’s no use saying ‘a parrot is a parrot, a pigeon is a pigeon’; instead we must ask how we can use the lessons we have learnt on restoring populations of other threatened birds – we must pass information on, learn from our experiences and the experiences of other projects worldwide. We’ve needed fantastic support and that’s what we’ve got: both technical and financial but you also need excellent and dedicated people in the field. Whilst funding is crucial, equally so is having trained people in the field – people make the difference.”

The news is of encouragement to those working in conservation within the BirdLife Partnership, once again proving that with adequate investment and trained people on the ground, threatened species do recover. Two weeks ago the first Mauritius Parakeet eggs of the season were laid and MWF is confident that, due to good native fruit season, a sufficient number of young parrots will fledge to maintain the population. “Mauritius Parakeet is still Endangered – we still have lots of work to do,” states Vikash. MWF will continue conservation work on the species until the Mauritius Parakeet population is self-sustaining, but by working to maintain habitats, control predators and promote biodiversity they hope to improve the survival odds of other species that too depend on the island’s biodiversity. “People included,” adds Vikash.

“Like other species that have been saved from extinction, reversing the fortunes of the Mauritius Parakeet took painstaking research to identify the threats, sufficient funding and sustained efforts by dedicated fieldworkers to implement the necessary actions,” said BirdLife’s Dr Stuart Butchart. “Across the world there are dedicated people struggling to repeat this story for other species, but they need the resources to achieve this.”

Source: BirdLife International News

3rd June 2007: Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra

Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF) celebrated the 100th Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra on Ile aux Aigrettes on the 20th February 2007. This species is unique to Mauritius and until recently was only found in the National Park. There was a decline from 260 to 93 pairs between 1974 and 2003.

This decline prompted MWF to initiate a recovery programme which involved transferring hand reared and captive bred birds to Ile aux Aigrettes, a predator free island. This has proved to be one of the most successful bird re-introductions with a current breeding population of 132 birds.

Source: MWF newsletter April 2007

3rd June 2007: Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri

5 sub-populations of Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri exist today in Mauritius with a total of 380 birds although there has been little growth in the last 5 years. Each sub-population is vulnerable to fluctuations triggered by factors such as disease, predation and cyclonic events. Additional sub-populations are planned at the Lower Gorges and Ferney Valley which will hopefully help to move towards the goal of 600 wild birds.

Source: MWF newsletter April 2007

3rd June 2007: Echo Parakeet Psittacula echo

Great progress has been made in the population restoration of the Echo Parakeet Psittacula echo although as the breeding period approached, a number of birds were noted with a fatal parrot specific virus called Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease.

Despite the uncertainties as a result of the virus, 2005/06 was a highly successful season with a total of 54 chicks fledging in the wild. The population is now estimated to be 343 birds in the wild.

Source: MWF newsletter April 2007

24th December 2005: Scientists find mass Dodo grave

Scientists have discovered the beautifully preserved bones of about 20 Dodos at a dig site in Mauritius. Little is known about the Dodo, a famous flightless bird thought to have become extinct in the 17th century. No complete skeleton has ever been found in Mauritius, and the last full set of bones was destroyed in a fire at a museum in Oxford, England, in 1755. Researchers believe the bones are at least 2,000-years-old, and hope to learn more about how Dodos lived.

A team of Dutch and Mauritian scientists discovered the bones in a swampy area near a sugar plantation on the south-east of the island. The bones were said to have been recovered from a single layer of earth, with the prospect of further excavations to come. Sections of beaks and the remains of Dodo chicks were thought to be among the find.

The discovery was hailed as a breakthrough in the Netherlands. This new find will allow for the first scientific research into and reconstruction of the world in which the Dodo lived, before western man landed on Mauritius and wiped out the species," the country's Natural History Museum announced in a statement.

Dutch geologist Kenneth Rijsdijk, who led the dig, said DNA samples from the Dodo bones could revolutionise understanding of how the birds lived.

Source: BBC News

16th December 2005: Mauritius highway plans shelved

In an important victory for conservation, plans for a road that would have devastated part of the forest heartland of the Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, one of the world’s flagship conservation success stories, have been shelved.

The historic decision was announced in October following national elections when the Prime Minister of Mauritius was elected with promises to change the country within 100 days. One of his pledges was to cancel building of the section of the South-Eastern Highway that would have cut across the Mauritius east coast mountains Important Bird Area (IBA), damaging some of the last remaining quality forest in that part of Mauritius. Instead the highway will bypass Mahebourg then join the existing eastern coast road at Ferney.

"After more than 18 months campaigning against this road, which would have threatened the continuing recovery of the Mauritius Kestrel, we were delighted to learn the plans have been abandoned and the Ferney Valley will instead become a nature reserve," commented the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the island's largest conservation NGO.

Source: BirdLife International News

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