Why dodo birds became extinct, new research


This 8 November 2019 video says about itself:

Scientists Finally Know The Real Reason Dodo Birds Went Extinct

If there’s one thing most people know about the dodo bird, it’s that they were dumb. If they had been human, they would have been the kind of person who changes pants while driving. Yes, legend has it, this creature was only really ever a danger to itself, a true poster child for The Darwin Awards…at least, that’s the story we’ve been fed.

But is it true?

Turns out, the whole story that the dumb dodo got itself hunted to extinction by being so stupid may have been a big load of doodoo.

Leon Claessens, Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, believes the Dutch sailors who first encountered the bird in 1598 didn’t actually hunt the birds to extinction, though the sailors likely had an indirect role in the demise of the species.

Previously, it was believed the birds were fat, and were hunted for food. But in the dense jungles of their native Mauritius, the bird would have been much leaner than previously thought, and therefore, not as appetizing of a meal. Further, these jungles would have also made it much harder for the few hundred sailors to catch the birds, regardless of how unafraid the dodos were of human beings.

Claessens believes the real problem was the rats and other animals that would have landed with the sailors. These animals would have been able to multiply quickly in an unrestricted habitat, and would have feasted on dodo eggs and outcompeted them for food, a double-extinction whammy.

And then the triple whammy hit: rapid habitat loss.

The island of Mauritius was not initially considered very valuable; just a place for ships to stop over. Some even thought the island was cursed due to a large amount of shipwrecks in the area.

That all changed when the Dutch realized they could export the island’s ebony wood for sale, which became the island’s primary economic activity. Not long after, settlers were turning the once-wild island into a big agricultural plantation, leading to heavy deforestation and loss of native plant species. The forest that provided natural protection for the dodo bird gave way to sugar cane fields, making the birds oversized sitting ducks for any predator who came along, as the dodos literally had no fight or flight reflex.

Lack of flight also made dodos ill-suited to surviving natural disasters. Evidence has been found that even before human settlement, many of the birds died in flash floods brought on by cyclones. Once they lost the natural protection of their sheltered forests, they became even more vulnerable.

The entry for “dodo” in the Oxford English Dictionary describes something that is “no longer effective, valid, or interesting,” and the origin of the word comes from the Portuguese doudou, translating to “simpleton”. It’s a sad legacy for what was once a beautiful, totally innocent creature.

Beyond their reputation for stupidity, dodos are a symbol of how quickly and profoundly humans can impact an environment and drive a species to extinction. Until we can clone them, dodos are gone forever, and the best thing we can do about it is to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.

It only took a hundred years to wipe out the dodo, and while exact dates of extinction vary, most believe the dodo was gone by the 1660s, with other reports claiming they lasted on nearby islands until the 1690s. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter much, because either way the bird, and just about every trace of it, is gone forever. All we’ve got are a few records and sketches from sailors, and one or two shoddily stuffed birds in museums.

We’re hardly even sure what color they were. Most paintings from the time show dodos with white feathers, but firsthand accounts describe them with gray to black plumage. Heck, we didn’t even know they had kneecaps until 2014, after a 3D scan of the last remaining skeleton revealed them.

So have we learned our lesson? Not yet, it seems: in another hundred years, it’s estimated that 25 percent of all bird species will be extinct in the wild unless we take big steps to clean up our act.

If not, we’ll be the real dodos.

Mauritian flying foxes, don’t kill them


This 2015 video says about itself:

Stop the Killing of Thousands of Mauritius’ Flying Foxes

Photo Credit: Jacques de Speville

The Mauritius fruit bats (aka flying foxes) play a key role in their ecosystem as pollinators and seed dispersers – and now they’re in grave danger. Each night, hundreds of these bats are being killed, until the government eliminates up to 18,000! Bat experts across the world need your help to halt this horrendous act from continuing.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Misunderstood flying fox could prove bat species demise, warn scientists

Why a further cull of endangered flying foxes flies against the facts

November 12, 2018

A large fruit-eating bat native to Mauritius is the subject of controversy over the announcement of a major cull to protect the Indian [Ocean] island’s fruit crops, despite a lack of evidence as to the extent of damage directly attributed to the endangered species. An international team of researchers, including the University of Bristol, that monitored the damage directly caused by the Mauritian flying fox to commercial fruit has found the bat is responsible for only some, and could be managed effectively without the need to cull. The study is published in the journal Oryx.

As a species of bat largely restricted to Mauritius, the Mauritian flying fox has an important role in helping to pollinate forest canopies and disperse the seeds of large trees in the island’s declining forests. However, the bats also feed on cultivated fruit such as mango and lychee and are perceived to cause large economic losses to commercial fruit farmers (annual estimates equate to five million US dollars). Until now, information on the scale of damage directly linked to the bats and the efficacy of mitigation interventions has been lacking.

An international research team, involving Ryszard Oleksy from Ecosystem Restoration Alliance Indian Ocean, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and researchers from the Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, monitored damage in commercial fruit farms. Their findings showed that while bats caused damage to a quarter of all monitored fruits overall, with more damage on taller trees (>6 m), significant losses were attributed to birds and by fruit fall.

By experimentally covering trees with nets, the team were able to prove that fruit damage by bats could be dramatically reduced, even if nets are placed over trees without using a frame.

The study recommends that farmers can reduce fruit losses by pruning trees to reduce their height, harvesting fruit before it is too ripe for selling, and using nets to reduce fruit loss by bats (the Mauritian government subsidises the costs of nets by 50-75 per cent at orchards and for backyard growers respectively), preventing the need for culling.

The species was uplisted this year as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in its Red List (the barometer of life) this year. It is estimated that approximately half the total population of this species of bat may have been culled in 2015-2016, and 5,000 to 6,000 bats are killed illegally each year. Given the magnitude of the population decline, the slow reproductive rate of the bats, their vulnerability to cyclones, deforestation, current estimates show 62,500 bats remained alive in 2016. Last month’s announcement by the Mauritian Government of a further 20 per cent cull of the Mauritian flying fox population could prove critical to the existence of the species.

Ryszard Oleksy, the study’s lead researcher and a former Bristol PhD student, said: “Further culling is clearly unnecessary, and hopefully the vital ecological roles played by these remarkable and endangered animals can be encouraged and enhanced in the future.”

Gareth Jones, Professor of Biological Sciences from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences and an expert in the ecology and behaviour of bats, added: “It seems bizarre that a species that plays crucial ecological roles that is found nowhere else in the world should be culled to such a huge extent in the absence of reliable evidence about how much damage it causes and whether culling is an effective form of control. We hope these findings help provide the evidence to show more effective interventions for safeguarding fruit crops.”

This 2012 video says about itself:

Mauritian Golden Bats or Flying Foxes

This video was taken on Ile aux Aigrettes, a wildlife reserve managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

The bats were orphaned as their mothers were killed in fruit plantations. They were taken into the hatchery and raised by staff members. Only males were shown on the island, to avoid breeding in captivity.

The males occasionally breed with free-ranging females, visiting the plentiful fig trees on the island. In absence of the responsible island warden, I occasionally fed the bats during weekend, when it was my turn to stay to supplementary feed “my” passerines (Mauritian fodies and olive white-eyes).

You can visit the island and the bats here.

Dodo killed by gun, new research shows


This video from England says about itself:

20 April 2018

The famous Oxford Dodo died after being shot, according to breakthrough research by Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick.

Read more here.

From the University of Warwick in England:

Dodo‘s violent death revealed

April 21, 2018

The famous Oxford Dodo died after being shot in the back of the head, according to breakthrough research by Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WMG at the University of Warwick.

Using revolutionary forensic scanning technology and world-class expertise, researchers have discovered surprising evidence that the Oxford Dodo was shot in the neck and back of the head with a shotgun.

The significant and unexpected findings, made by Professor Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Natural History, and Professor Mark Williams from WMG at the University of Warwick, only became apparent when mysterious particles were found in the specimen during scans carried out to help analyse its anatomy.

Subsequent analysis of the material and size of the particles revealed that they are lead shot pellets, typically used to hunt wildfowl during the 17th century.

The findings cast doubt on the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo is the remains of a bird kept alive in a townhouse in 17th-century London.

Held at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Oxford Dodo represents the most complete remains of a dodo collected as a living bird — the head and a foot — and the only surviving soft tissue anywhere in the world.

The researchers have shown that this famous specimen was shot in the back of the head and the neck, and that the shot did not penetrate its skull — which is now revealed to be very thick.

To conduct this research, the Dodo remains were securely transferred from Oxford to Professor Williams’ state-of-the-art scanning laboratory at WMG, where he used CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software to analyse the bird’s skull and create a three-dimensional digital replica of it.

Professor Williams and his team gained an unprecedented level of insight to the precious dodo remains, looking inside the skull of the bird and discovering crucial information about its anatomy, as well as how it lived and died.

The Oxford Dodo originally came to the University of Oxford as part of the Tradescant Collection of specimens and artefacts compiled by father and son John Tradescant in London in the 17th century. CT scanning technology allowed researchers to see inside the famous specimen for the first time, revealing details without disturbing the remains or taking them apart.

Professor Paul Smith, Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History, commented: “The Oxford Dodo is an important specimen for biology, and because of its connections with Lewis Carroll it is of great cultural significance too. The new findings reveal an unexpected part of history of this specimen as we thought the bird had come to the museum after being displayed as a live specimen in London.”

The researchers at WMG produced detailed scans of the dodo remains, and created a 3D model of the bird, which was analysed by the researchers at Oxford, who were able to confirm the findings.

The results of three years of collaborative research, these findings deliver ground-breaking fresh knowledge about this famous but mysterious creature that has been extinct since the mid-17th century.

Dodos were endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The first European accounts of the bird were made by Dutch explorers in 1601, after they rediscovered the island in 1598. The last living bird was sighted in 1662, and the dodo has subsequently become an icon of human-caused extinction.

Professor Mark Williams, leader of the Product Evaluation Technologies and Metrology Research group at WMG, University of Warwick, commented: “When we were first asked to scan the Dodo, we were hoping to study its anatomy and shed some new light on how it existed. In our wildest dreams, we never expected to find what we did.

“Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world’s most famous extinct bird. It just goes to show that when you are carrying out investigative research, you never quite know what you are going to find.”

Dr Jay Warnett, Assistant Professor at WMG, commented: “At its core, the technology is the same as what is used in medical X-ray CT scanning. But because we weren’t limited by dose (because we were scanning an inanimate object rather than a person), it meant we were able to get a much higher resolution.

“Because of this higher resolution — going down to a fraction of the size of a human hair — this meant that we had a much bigger data challenge.”

Professor Mark Williams has employed the same digital forensics techniques to provide crucial evidence in over sixty major police trials, and to conduct crucial automotive research.

He has also used it to reveal long-lost details of other landmark historical and archaeological artefacts — providing answers that are only possible through using this pioneering scanning technology at WMG.

Bringing back pink pigeons, parakeets in Mauritius


This 2009 video from Iowa in the USA is called Mauritius Pink Pigeon at the Blank Park Zoo.

From BirdLife:

5 Sep 2017

Reintroducing the pink pigeon and echo parakeet in Mauritius

By Jean Hugues Gardenne and Obaka Torto

Re-introducing birds to suitable habitats where species have gone extinct is often a very important and sometimes a last resort to sustain the survival of some threatened Mauritian bird species. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), a BirdLife International Partner in Mauritius, has a long and successful track record of exploiting bird translocation opportunities at any given time.

In recent years, MWF has worked with other partners in the country like the National Parks and Conservation Service of the Ministry of Agro Industry, the CIEL Group, the United Nation’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, HSBC, and Chester Zoo (UK), to translocate several Mauritian birds, including the Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Cuckoo Shrike and Paradise Flycatcher from the Black River Gorges National Park in the south west to the east of the island, in Ferney Valley (Bambous Mountains). This strategy has helped to create new subpopulations and increased the total population of some bird species, as it contributes to their distribution, saves them from extinction and loss of genetic diversity.

In the last couple of years, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has worked tirelessly to increase the population of two rare species of birds found in the island nation and prevented them from extinction. The two species are the Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) and the Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) that were already disappearing. Pink Pigeons are a distinctive species of birds with pale pink body, brown wings and a broad rusty-brown tail. They are known to form long-term pairs and are capable of breeding at any time of the year. These beautiful birds that feed on flowers, leaves and fruits of native and exotic trees are endemic to Mauritius. Recently, Mauritius was ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having the third most endangered flora in the world – and this poses a major threat to the already declining birds that largely depend on plants for survival. Just like the pink pigeon, the echo parakeet is a parrot endemic to Mauritius. It is the only surviving parrot of the Mascarene Islands as all others have become extinct.

In order to prevent the bird species from disappearing, MWF decided to translocate them. The translocation of the echo parakeet started in February 2015 and the pink pigeon in December 2016. By July 2017, 73 echo parakeets and 30 pink pigeons have been released. The birds are supported by close monitoring since all individuals are identifiable from colour and ID rings, supplementary feeding, predator control, disease control and habitat restoration.

MWF was confident that the birds would breed in future. However, it was amazing when a young un-ringed echo parakeet turned up at the release aviaries in the Ferney Valley in March 2017. Two months later in June 2017, an un-ringed young pink pigeon was sighted with his parents on the same valley. This is the first time that the two birds have bred in the Bambous Mountains in over a century. The confirmed breeding of birds is a yardstick of success and shows that the area is suitable for these birds and is favourably managed. With these young birds of the two species being seen in Ferney Valley, it is obvious that the translocations are a success and hopes are high that many more shall be sighted in the near future.

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

US Senator Inhofe wins Rubber Dodo Award


Rubber Dodo for Senator Inhofe

From Wildlife Extra:

Climate-change denying Senator James Inhofe Wins 2012 Rubber Dodo Award

Sponsored by Big Oil……….

October 2012. Senator James Inhofe, one of Congress’ staunchest deniers of climate change and stalwart human obstacle to federal action on this unprecedented global crisis, is the lucky recipient of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2012 Rubber Dodo Award, which is given annually to those who have done the most to drive endangered species extinct.

Alumni

Previous winners include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), massive land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).

When it comes to denying the climate crisis – the single-greatest threat now facing life on Earth – James Inhofe has few peers. The Oklahoma Republican is the ringleader of anti-science climate-deniers in Congress and a driving force behind the tragic lack of U.S. action to tackle this complex problem. 2012 saw the publication, to resoundingly little critical acclaim, of Sen. Inhofe’s book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, by WND Press, an entity also known for its “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama.

“As climate change ravages the world, Senator Inhofe insists that we deny the reality unfolding in front of us and choose instead to blunder headlong into chaos,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “Senator Inhofe gets the 2012 Rubber Dodo Award for being at the vanguard of the retrograde climate-denier movement.”

Funding

According to Wikipedia, for his election funding Inhofe gets most of his largest donations from Big Oil, Big Electric, The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, and the good old National Rifle Association. Read more on Wikipedia.

40,000 temperature records broken in the United States in 2012

This year is on track to become the warmest on record; some 40,000 temperature records have been broken in the United States in 2012 alone, while Arctic sea ice has melted to a record low. The year has also seen record droughts, crop failures, massive wildfires, floods and other unmistakable signals that manmade global warming is tightening its grip, threatening people and wildlife around the globe.

“Senator Inhofe’s pet theory that climate change is an elaborate hoax would be hilarious, if only he weren’t an elected representative of the American people,” Suckling said. “If he were, say, a performance artist, it’d be really funny. But sadly he has the power to affect U.S. climate policy. The United States has a chance – and a duty – to take significant steps to slow the climate crisis, and a brief window of time before it’s too late for us to do so. Deniers like Inhofe, in positions of leadership, are dooming future generations of people to a far more difficult world.”

Other nominees

More than 15,000 people cast their votes in this year’s Rubber Dodo contest. Other official nominees were Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who put a rider on a must-pass bill that stripped Endangered Species Act protection from wolves, and Shell Oil, a company bound and determined to pursue dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Background on the Dodo

In 1598, Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, three-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo – the most famous extinct species on Earth. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo was extinct, having been hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.

The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It probably came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).

The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were accidentally produced by overfeeding captive birds.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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.

Bones reveal what it was like to grow up dodo. Cutting into precious bone specimens gives clues to the extinct birds’ life and times. BySusan Milius, 7:00am, August 29, 2017.