Endangered Mascarene petrel discoveries


This video says about itself:

26 May 2013

The Mascarene Petrel is breeding on Round Island (Mauritius).

From BirdLife:

Critically endangered Mascarene Petrel discovered at sea and unique image captured of bird with its egg

By Adrian Long, Thu, 04/09/2014 – 00:01

An expedition to find the Critically Endangered Mascarene Petrel at sea has returned with new information on one of the world’s least-known seabirds. Incredibly they have photographed a female bird where the egg is an obvious protrusion in the contour of her underbody.

This is thought to be the first record of any bird photographed in flight with an obvious egg inside the body.

Author Hadoram Shirihai said: “Against the background of a pinkish-orange sunset, with Réunion Island in the distance, I spotted a petrel through my camera’s viewfinder. Almost immediately I saw the outline of an egg, a huge bump at its belly.  I called out to the other expedition members – “she has an egg, she has an egg…”. She flew close to the boat which gave me the unique chance to photograph her just before the sun set. It was a magical moment, and to think that in less than an hour she would probably lay her egg and contribute to the future survival of this threatened species.”

Fellow author Tony Pym said: “These are first photos of Mascarene Petrel taken at sea. Up until now the only shots are of grounded birds, brought down due to artificial lighting on Réunion, the breeding island.”

Author Vincent Bretagnolle: “With some estimates of only a few dozen breeding pairs of Mascarene Petrel our at-sea records suggest there are more individuals than thought, and that unknown colonies somewhere on the island have ensured the future of this species, at least for now.”

Roger Safford from BirdLife International said: “This exciting discovery provides important information on a very poorly known and globally threatened seabird. The finders are to be congratulated on their dedication. Their discovery was no accident, combining meticulous planning and research.”

Mascarene Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International on the IUCN Red List because it is assumed to have an extremely small breeding population and to be undergoing a continuing decline owing to predation and light-induced mortality.

“For most Critically Endangered species like Mascarene Petrel there is still hope for their survival,” added Safford, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme Manager. “BirdLife and its partners are working to save the world’s most threatened species from extinction. With the right conservation action, often underpinned by sound science, we have improved the populations and fortunes of many species.“

“Mascarene Petrel is set to benefit from direct conservation action on Réunion. The Parc national de La Réunion authorities have been awarded funds from EU LIFE+ this year to reduce threats and undertake conservation actions for the petrel.  This will involve working on the ground with local conservation organisations such as SEOR (Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de La Réunion).”

The sighting has given new insight into the timing of the breeding season of the species which will help with future searches for its breeding grounds on Réunion Island, the only known place for the species in the world.

The search for the elusive petrel is described in a paper in the latest Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. Thirty-three Mascarene Petrels were observed, and 12 of them photographed. The species’ flight, behaviour and detailed comparison to other species are also described for the first time.

Good seabird news from Mauritius


This video from Australia is called White-tailed tropic bird release; long trip [from Frankston to Pambula]; how far will you go?

From Wildlife Extra:

Success in Mauritius’ attempts to save seabird breeding populations on its islands

January 2014: Moves to protect breeding seabirds on the Mauritian offshore islands, especially Round Island and Serpent Island, are gaining momentum. These islands play an important role in supporting some of the largest breeding colonies in the Indian Ocean and an ongoing project to halt declines in numbers is showing signs of success.

The Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the representatives of BirdLife in Mauritius, started a Seabird Translocation Project in 2009, with the aim of restoring a lost seabird community on Ile aux Aigrettes and to learn as much as possible about the birds in the process. Translocations are a major tool in ensuring the survival of threatened species worldwide.

With the project now in its third season, 280 seabirds of five different species have been released to new, safe sites with help from the National Coast Guard and the National Parks and Conservation Service. In 2013 releases of 17 common noddies and 21 sooty terns ran smoothly, with all but a single bird fledging successfully. Harvested nestlings were translocated from Serpent Island to a cordoned off area on Ile aux Aigrettes. The birds were fed twice a day on communal feed trays after the initial weeks of individual hand-feeding, and they remained around the release site for some weeks after fledging, returning to the island to be fed for a time before gradually spending extended periods out at sea.

This is the first time, as far as is known, that these species have been translocated or hand-reared in any numbers, so any information gained during this trial is of great importance. The mix of different seabird species shows diverse behavioural, nesting and feeding requirements. Information on fledging times, growth and provisioning rates, and also fledgling survival, is adding to scientists’ current knowledge on seabirds.

There have also been recent helicopter transfers of around 30 tropicbirds from Round Island to Ile aux Aigrettes. Nestlings were harvested around two to three weeks before fledging and were hand-reared on a diet of fish, squid and octopus. White-tailed tropicbirds have been seen flying frequently over the island, and wedge-tailed shearwaters have been heard calling near release sites. These are all encouraging signs, and MWF hopes to find returning birds on the island over the coming seasons. These translocations demonstrate MWF’s long-term commitment to seabird and island restoration and will lay the groundwork for more challenging seabird restoration work in the future, such as the establishment of some rarer seabirds, including the Round Island petrel and the red-footed booby.

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Threatened snakes back in Mauritius


This video is about a red-tailed tropicbird on Round Island, Mauritius.

From Wildlife Extra:

Round Island boa returned to native habitat for first time in 150 years

As with many reptiles in Mauritius, the Round Island boa – also known as the keel scaled boa – is threatened with extinction. It is the only surviving member of the Bolyeridae, a family of snakes unique to Mauritius and the only vertebrate on the planet to have two hinges in its jaw; one to open and close its mouth and another that allows the top jaw to hinge downwards. This unusual jaw arrangement is thought to be an adaptation to eating barrel-shaped lizards, such as the Telfair’s skink.

The survival of the boa is therefore not only important to biodiversity within the region but also because of its scientific significance. The snake became restricted to Round Island by the mid-1800s following the invasion of predatory rats to almost everywhere else in the region.

However, introduced goats and rabbits on Round Island were destroying the boa’s habitat and also habitat that supported its preferred lizard prey. In the 1970s, Durrell recognised the plight of Round Island’s unique species, such as the boa, when there were very few individuals remaining. It initiated a captive breeding programme and were integral to removing the destructive herbivores by the 1980s.

In the 1990s, rats and other mammalian predators were removed from other northern islands where the boa and other reptiles now restricted to Round Island used to exist. Over the past six years, work has focused on restoring the endangered lizard community on the target island, which has included the re-establishment of the boa’s key prey from Round Island, the Telfair’s skink.

Like the boa the Telfair’s skink is also threatened with extinction, but by rebuilding naturally functioning communities, Durrell and its partners in Mauritius are reducing the risks of extinction, as exemplified recently through their work to save the orange-tailed skink that would now be extinct had it not been for the current restoration work.

Second population of critically Endangered snake created

October 2012. A group of Round Island boas are being reintroduced to one of their original habitats on another Mauritian island for the first time since the 1860s.

This historical step in a long-standing programme by Durrell and its partners to protect the threatened species from extinction will see up to 60 of the snakes released on an island, which is a closed nature reserve and one on which a huge amount of work has been carried out to restore the natural ecosystem.

Establishing a second population

It is the first time that snakes have been relocated for conservation purposes within the region and once established, the second population should give the Round Island boa – which for over 150 years has been restricted to the Island it is named after – a much better long-term chance of survival.

Just 1000 left in the wild

The wild boas, which number about 1,000 in total, are currently being collected by hand by a specialist team of conservationists. Once the snakes have undergone a health check, their release onto their new island home is due to take place between 15th October and 1st November 2012.

Island had to be cleared of pests

Explaining why it has taken so long for the relocation to become a reality, Durrell’s Dr Nik Cole, who is leading the relocation through the Mauritius Reptile Recovery Programme, said: “For about 150 years, the boas have been isolated to Round Island. It has been impossible to reintroduce them to their former range because of the damage caused by invasive predators, such as rats, which caused the loss of the boas natural prey and the boas. Furthermore, the damage caused by invasive herbivores on Round Island itself had reduced the boa population to a level where removing individuals for relocation may have been harmful to the survival of the species.

Telfair’s skink

“However, the vision of Durrell and others in the 1970s to remove these problematic invaders from the islands has allowed the reptile populations on Round Island to recover and opened up other islands for the reintroduction of threatened species. For example in 2007 the Telfair’s skink was reintroduced, which like the boa had become restricted to Round Island. The newly established Telfair’s skink population is now robust enough to support boas, which require a healthy skink population to survive.”

The Mauritius Reptile Recovery Programme is part of an on-going collaborative conservation project by Durrell, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks and Conservation Service, supported by the International Zoo Veterinary Group. Despite the work which has enabled the boa to recover its numbers on Round Island itself, having any species restricted to one small location is never ideal, with the potential risk of predator invasion and adverse weather conditions. Therefore establishing a second population is essential.

Snake collection

The programme’s snake collecting team has 219 hectares of steep terrain to cover across the whole of Round Island to ensure there is a wide genetic mix for release. A minimum of 40 snakes is required for the release to be a success and the team is aiming to collect at least 100 from which to select 60 suitable individuals.

The boa population and resident reptiles on the target island have undergone rigorous screening to determine any potential disease risks involved with the translocation. Once caught, the boas will be individually housed for up to four days in specially-designed holding units on Round Island, where they will be screened for any potential health problems. Dr Cole will then take the snakes to an awaiting team on the target island and each boa will be released at night at one of 60 locations that have been specially prepared.

The snakes will be closely monitored using night vision equipment once they are released. This work will be carried out by the field team, who are all local Mauritian staff, and only Dr Cole will move between two islands, with the assistance of the National Coast Guard, to reduce the risk of transferring any unwanted species between the islands.

Rats removed

Dr Cole said: “The boas’ chance of survival should be high as the cause of their original demise – the rats – has been removed from the island and their prey source – primarily the Telfair’s skink – is once again in abundance. Their reintroduction restores an apex predator in a natural system and having two populations of the species is certainly better than one and as such will greatly enhance the future survival of this unique animal.”

Saving Mauritian skinks


Orange-tailed skink

From Wildlife Extra:

Critically Endangered Mauritian skinks breeding fast at Durrell

Trio of female Mauritian skinks kick-start breeding programme in Jersey

September 2012. The breeding skills of three female orange-tailed skinks have impressed conservationists and given the new safety net population for their Critically Endangered reptile species a real chance for the future.

16 juveniles and 4 eggs

Over the past four months at the Durrell headquarters in Jersey, the females have produced a staggering 16 juveniles between them, all of which are doing well, and another 4 eggs are currently incubating. This is despite the fact that female skinks produce only two large eggs at one time and the trio were the only females out of 22 rescued orange-tailed skinks that were brought to Durrell a year ago that were able to breed; the others were still too small or male.

Matt Goetz, Head of Durrell’s Herpetology Department, said: “These three orange-tailed skinks have gone above and beyond our expectations for them since they arrived at Durrell a year ago and started breeding in March. When they were rescued from Flat Island in Mauritius following the invasion of the predatory Indian musk shrew, we knew that a safety net population elsewhere was going to be essential as their numbers were critically low.

But even in our wildest dreams, we couldn’t have hoped that the females would get off to such a flying start. They are clearly happy and healthy, and we are delighted that population numbers of the orange-tailed skink in Jersey are increasing so rapidly.”

Tourism development led to local extinction

The invasion of Flat Island by the Indian musk shrew followed the development of tourism there and sadly recent surveys have confirmed that no orange-tailed skinks have survived on the island.

Translocation

Fortunately, fears about the extinction of the species led Durrell’s team, along with staff from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Mauritius National Parks and Conservation Service, to translocate 82 orange-tailed skinks to the Mauritian nature reserve, Gunner’s Quoin, in 2008 and a further 390 in 2010. Unlike Flat Island access by tourists and the public is prohibited.

The restoration of Mauritian endemic reptile communities is one of Durrell’s core conservation projects and in an attempt to establish a safety net population, 22 of the rescued skinks made their way to Jersey in June 2011.

Dr. Nik Cole, Durrell’s team leader in the Mauritian reptile project said: “Aside from the population at Durrell, the only surviving orange-tailed skinks are present on Gunner’s Quoin and it will be years before we know whether the translocation there has been a success or we manage to find a way to tackle the shrew problem. That is what makes the safety net population of this Critically Endangered reptile so important and in turn what makes the news about the breeding trio of females such a delight.”

The first of the females’ eggs were laid after conservationists created the onset of an artificial wet and hot season in the skinks’ new habitat in March. Having produced four clutches each, the females will now rest and the artificial climate will cool down. Towards the end of the year, the Durrell team will initiate another hot, rainy season and by then the remaining skinks will have reached maturity and should start breeding as well.

See also here.

Again dodo expedition on Mauritius


This is a Dutch video on the dodo expedition.

Translated from Astrid Kromhout, writing on the Dutch-Mauritian dodo expedition blog, on Mauritius:

Sixth dodo expedition examines how the dodo used to move

August 11, 2011

On August 8, 2011 the sixth Dodo Expedition started in Mauritius.

Up to and including 19 August, expedition leader Kenneth Rijsdijk, a physical geographer at the University of Amsterdam, will work with a multidisciplinary team at investigating interesting aspects of this unique ecosystem. New this year is the reconstruction of the musculoskeletal system of the dodo and biochemical analysis of the bones from which we learn more about the diet of the dodo. Follow the adventures of the dodo team closely on this blog. …

In the mud of the excavation pit there are clearly many bones

The expedition has not yet started, and already a dodo bone found in the pit: a thigh bone! It shows again that there is a wealth of fossils and other data to be found in the Mare aux Songes.

Ile aux Aigrettes (Mauritius) – A conservation success story: here.