Monday, 6 August 2018

Conservation Updates: Denis Private Island

The Denis Survivors’ Club: Trans-Located Birds Given New Lease On Life

The populations of two once critically endangered bird species in Seychelles are at their most stable since before mankind colonised the Indian Ocean archipelago, in part thanks to their new home on Denis Island. Populations of both bird species are thriving on the island as a result of restored native habitats on Denis and an extensive monitoring programme carried out by the resident conservation organisation Green Islands Foundation (GIF).

According to Denis island environment officer,Chris Tagg, translocation efforts provide an extra level of security for the two species, should a population on one island fail due to disease, habitat destruction or introduced threats.

Since 20 magpie robins were introduced to Denis in 2008, the population now stands at 78 according to the last census carried out on the island. The magpie robin colony on Denis was further bolstered by the 2015 eradication of invasive common myna birds that aggressively challenged magpie robins for breeding territory.

Paradise flycatchers were in a similar position at one stage, limited to one island only (La Digue), and threatened by native habitat destruction due to even small-scale development on the island. In 2008, 23 flycatchers were released on Denis.

“A size-able portion of the entire island has been allocated as a conservation zone with no development, providing a perfect core habitat area for the flycatchers.” Tagg says. “The flycatchers have spilled out of this zone and can be seen throughout the island now.”
The population has since increased to 70 birds as of 2017.

“Success stories like this are only possible thanks to constant monitoring of populations of wildlife, with appropriate steps taken to ensure success,” Tagg says.

That often includes providing mother nature with an assist from time to time. Tagg notes that as part of regular monitoring activities, the conservation team on Denis will track birds back to new nests they’re building to monitor for possible hatchlings. In one incident in May, a nest fell to the ground due to a gust of wind, so conservation rangers quickly built a substitute nest to ensure the hatchling would not fall prey to crabs.

Both species, unique to Seychelles, saw their numbers decline rapidly soon after human intervention came to the islands in the 1700s. The accidental introduction of rats and other predators, along with agricultural activities, wiped out safe habitats for both birds to nest and reproduce.

With as few as 12 individuals remaining in the world at one point, all on one island, the magpie robin was on the brink of extinction for over 20 years before a concerted effort to trans-locate the birds to other breeding grounds. Colonies were started on Cousin and Cousine, followed by Aride and then Denis.

The magpie robin population across the five colonies appears to be approaching 300, and the species has been down-listed from “critically endangered” to “endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s threatened species list.

But despite the successes, conservationists know that especially when dealing with small populations in isolated areas, the work is never truly over.

“Even after the huge challenges of providing a safe habitat for the birds and removing invasive species,” Tagg says, “constant monitoring still needs to be done to look for any potential problems on the horizon that can be prevented.”

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