Good Seychelles conservation news


From BirdLife:

Cousin Island Special Reserve – a success story

By Martin Fowlie, Tue, 15/04/2014 – 11:23

This video tells the conservation success story of Cousin Island Special Reserve, a former coconut enterprise now turned nature reserve in the Seychelles. Managed by local NGO and BirdLife Partner, Nature Seychelles, Cousin lies approximately 2 km from Praslin Island, Seychelles. The island became the World’s first internationally-owned reserve in 1968 when it was purchased by the International Council for the Protection of Birds (now Birdlife International) to save the last remaining population of the Seychelles warbler.

Cousin at the time had been cleared of its native vegetation and planted wall to wall with coconuts. Pigs, chickens and cattle had been introduced. Soon after its purchase, the Seychelles Government designated the island as a Nature Reserve under the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act. In 1975, Cousin was designated a Special Reserve. This included the marine area up to 400m beyond the High Water Mark. Today, Cousin Island is a bird sanctuary; home to many endemic land birds and an important breeding site for seabirds. It is the most important rookery for Hawksbill turtles in the Western Indian Ocean. The island has been successfully restored to its natural vegetation and has received international awards for its conservation efforts and eco-tourism initiatives.

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Frog listens with its mouth, new discovery


This video says about itself:

The frog that hears with its MOUTH: Amphibian once thought to be deaf uses cavity

Sep 2, 2013

French scientists have solved the mystery of how one of the world’s smallest frogs can croak and hear other amphibians without possessing an eardrum.

Gardiner’s frogs from the Seychelles islands, which are just one centimetre long, were thought to be deaf, but the research revealed they actually hear sounds through their mouths.

Using X-rays, the scientists discovered the frogs’ mouths act as a resonator or amplifier for the frequencies ‘spoken’ by the species.

From the BBC:

3 September 2013 Last updated at 01:09 GMT

Tiny Gardiner’s frog listens with its mouth

By Victoria Gill, Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists have discovered how one of the world’s smallest frogs is able to hear with its mouth.

The tiny, earless Gardiner’s frog was assumed to be deaf.

But this study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that it uses its mouth cavity to convey sound signals to its brain.

The discovery solves the mystery of why the earless frog produces loud, high-pitched squeaks.

The diminutive frogs, which live in the forests of the Seychelles, have no middle ear region at all, meaning they have no resonating eardrum.

Researchers had therefore assumed that the animals had no way to amplify and transmit sound waves from the environment into the inner ear and, via nerve cells, to the brain.

But this research revealed that the species defied those assumptions.

The scientists made recordings of the frogs’ calls and played them back to wild frogs in order to observe their behaviour.

Justin Gerlach from the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles and a member of the research team, explained that the frog’s call was “one of the characteristic noises in the forest”.

“It’s a very loud high-pitched squeak,” he told BBC News.

The playback experiments showed that the frogs were able to hear these squeaks.

“If you play the call, they respond,” explained Dr Gerlach.

“Either they change position – they may move to face where the call is coming from – or quite often they will call in response.”

Lead researcher Renaud Boistel from the French National Centre for Scientific Research added: “It’s very funny actually; [the frogs would] even attack the loud speaker.”

Resonating mouth

The next step was to find out how the frogs were able to hear the sound.

To investigate this, the team used highly sensitive X-ray imaging techniques at the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble.

This allowed them to examine the frog’s anatomy in fine detail and and work out which body parts might play the role of the middle ear – transmitting sound wave signals via nerves to the brain.

The team produced simulations of how the frog’s head responded to sound waves of the same frequency as the frog’s high-pitched call. This confirmed that, at those frequencies, the frogs’ mouth cavity resonated like the body of a guitar – amplifying the sound.

Gardiner’s frogs have also evolved much thinner and fewer layers of tissue between their mouth cavity and inner ear. This allows sound waves to be more effectively transmitted to the “labyrinth” of fluid in the frogs’ head and then onto the brain via nerve cells.

Dr Boistel said: “This combination of a [resonating] mouth cavity and bone conduction allows Gardiner’s frogs to perceive sound effectively without use of a middle ear.”

He added that he hoped the discovery of this novel hearing mechanism could be applied to help certain types of human deafness.

Endangered and isolated

Gardiner’s frogs only live in the Seychelles.

“They’re cut off on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, which makes them one of the most geographically isolated frogs in the world,” explained Dr Gerlach. “And they’ve been isolated there since Seychelles split from India 65 million years ago.”

The species is listed as endangered, primarily because its habitat is being degraded by fire, invasive species, and human activity including agriculture and tourism.

Dr Gerlach said: “The possible extinction of these frogs would mean the loss of 65 million years of remarkable evolution: not only are their hearing systems unusual, but they are also among the smallest frogs in the world.”

See also here.

This computer animation sequence reveals the interior structure and anatomy of the head of Gardiner’s frog. Credit R. Boistel/CNRS.

Beautiful Seychelles island gets website


This video from the Seychelles is called The story of Cousin Island.

From BirdLife:

Nature Seychelles launches Cousin Island website

Fri, Aug 2, 2013

If you want to see Seychelles nature at its finest, then one of the top places to visit is Cousin Island Special Reserve. Over the last four decades, this former coconut plantation has been transformed into a hotspot of the best fauna and flora to be found in Seychelles. From the seashore to the top of the hill, nature is on display in all its glory.

Each year, thousands of people visit this unique island reserve to discover its beauty and diversity. On Cousin the wildlife is abundant and close at hand. No matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to see a variety of nesting seabirds, tortoises cavorting in the marsh, foraging birds of the forest, lizards roaming about in the leaf litter in search of food, and a host of invertebrates such as crabs, spiders, and millipedes.

Now in a recent development Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner), who are Cousin’s managers, have launched a new and exciting website for the island in order to bring its beauty closer to a local and worldwide audience.

www.cousinisland.net is the new online home of the island. Here you can browse through high quality images of the island’s wildlife and also find out information about the island.

A history of Cousin is described in the first section of the site, which also gives quick facts about the island.

The visit section meanwhile, tells you how to go there and when to get there. In order to keep the experience short and sweet, and to reduce the ecological footprint to this tiny island, visits are limited to a couple of hours in the mornings, Monday to Friday. A number of local tour operators who bring visitors to Cousin are listed.

Only Cousin Island boats are allowed to land on its shores to prevent the accidental introduction of pests onto the Reserve, so the tour boats anchor offshore while visitors are brought on shore. The exhilarating landing is a major highlight of the visit.

The tour structure is also explained; 75 minutes of an experience which no visitor forgets, conducted in English and French and, depending on the presence of a foreign language volunteer, also in other languages like German and Italian. A list of essentials which visitors should bring for the short visit is provided too.

The Cousin wildlife spectacle is showcased in the ‘discover’ section of the site, complete with a photo gallery of the major groups of fauna and flora to be found – land birds, seabirds, reptiles, shore birds, lizards, invertebrates and vegetation.

The conservation programme carried out on Cousin, involving research, monitoring and management of the endemic wildlife and habitats, is explained in another section, while another outlines how one can contribute to the island’s activities through volunteering. A news section keeps everyone updated with the island’s goings on, complete with volunteer and staff experiences.

There is no doubt that visiting Cousin should be on anyone’s bucket list. But should you be unable to go, then the next best thing is to pay it a virtual visit on the newly launched Cousin Island website.

‘Extinct’ Seychelles turtle did not exist


West African mud turtle Pelusios castaneus (credit: © Mark-Oliver Rödel)

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

One Extinct Turtle Less: Turtle Species in the Seychelles Never Existed

Apr. 4, 2013 — The turtle species Pelusios seychellensis regarded hitherto as extinct never existed. Scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Dresden discovered this based on genetic evidence. The relevant study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

Turtles are the vertebrates under the greatest threat. Among the approximately 320 turtle species, the species confined to islands have been especially hard hit — humans have caused the extinction of a whole number of species. One of them — or at least it was thought so — is the Seychelles mud turtle Pelusios seychellensis. Just three specimens were collected at the end of the 19th century; they are still kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Hamburg.

Despite an intensive search for this species, which was declared as “extinct” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), no further specimens have been found since those in the 19th century. “Consequently, it was assumed the species had been exterminated,” says Professor Uwe Fritz, director of the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden. The Dresden biologist states quite clearly that this is not true. “We have examined the DNA of the original specimen from the museum in Vienna and discovered that these turtles are not a separate species.”

The genetic analyses have shown that this supposed Seychellois species is in reality another species, Pelusios castaneus, that is widespread in West Africa. “The species Pelusios seychellensis has therefore never existed,” adds Fritz. “In fact, for a long time researchers were amazed that the supposed Seychelles turtles looked so deceptively similar to the West African turtles. But due to the great geographic distance, it was thought this had to be a different species, which is why the assumed Seychelles turtles were also described as a new species in 1906.”

Another species classified as native therefore disappears from the list of Seychelles species. Last year, Fritz and his team had already proved that another mud turtle species, Pelusios subniger, was not endemic to the Seychelles but had been introduced by man.

“In the Seychelles there is therefore at most one mud turtle species that could be native. And even with this species we are still uncertain whether it really is endemic,” says Fritz. So far, the biologists from Dresden have not been able to explore this possibility due to the incomplete sampling available, however.

“But what is certain even now is that the protection programmes for turtles in the Seychelles will have to be revised, so that truly endemic animal species are protected and the scarce funds available for species protection are put to good use,” says Fritz in conclusion.

Hawksbill turtles’ love life discoveries


This is a hawksbill turtle video.

From the BBC:

4 February 2013 Last updated at 03:26

Hawksbill turtles‘ monogamous sex life revealed

By Michelle Warwicker BBC Nature

The sex lives of critically endangered hawksbill turtles have been revealed by scientists studying the animals in the Seychelles.

Previously, little had been understood about the mating habits of the turtles, which live underwater and often far out at sea.

Researchers were surprised to find that the turtles are mainly monogamous, with females storing sperm from one male and using it to fertilise multiple egg clutches.

The study, led by researchers from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, was published in the online journal Molecular Ecology.

“Sperm storage” is found in animals including reptiles, birds and some turtles, tortoises and terrapins.

Females can store viable sperm from multiple males for long periods of time, meaning that their egg clutches are sometimes fertilised by more than one father.

Researchers carried out DNA testing from hawksbill turtle hatchlings on Cousine Island in the Seychelles to identify how many males were involved in fertilising eggs during a breeding season.

The tests revealed a monogamous mating system: most egg clutches were sired by just one male, and no males had fertilised more than one female during the 75-day season.

“We were surprised that they were so monogamous because actually… genetic monogamy is actually the exception in most animals, not the rule,” said research team member Dr David Richardson.

The findings show that “there are plenty of males out there” for females to mate with.

“It’s very unlikely that it’s just a few males hanging around offshore”, said Dr Richardson. “We think they’re mating with males a long way away, wherever they’re normally foraging and feeding which can be all over the western Indian Ocean,” he added.

The number of hawksbill turtle males contributing to the next generation is important for the species’ survival because it results in higher levels of genetic variation.

Genetic variability “means [the turtles] can respond to new threats, new diseases or anything that comes along,” explained Dr Richardson.

Hawksbill turtles were identified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature after years of being hunted for their shells, which were prized in the now illegal decorative tortoiseshell trade.

Found in tropical waters around the world, females turtles gather at onshore nesting sites such as Cousine Island every few years to lay around five clutches of eggs during the season.

Mating often takes place out at sea, but according to the study, by testing DNA samples from hatchlings on the island, the researchers were able to gather information that would have been impossible from observation alone.

Dr Richardson told BBC Nature that this study, combined with independent reports of hawksbill turtle numbers rising, indicates that “in terms of conservation… maybe we are in a better place than we thought.”

The team hopes their study may help conservationists working on Cousine Island to understand more about the lives of the animals and to focus their efforts.

See also here.

Seychelles paradise flycatchers helped by schoolchildren


Seychelles paradise flycatchers, male and female

From BirdLife:

Water for birds: Club installs bird baths for Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher

Wed, Jan 23, 2013

Eight bird baths were installed around the the island

An after school clubs called the Friends of the Flycatcher is helping to keep Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone corvina watered. The club based on La Digue, Seychelles third largest inhabited island, has installed eight bird baths on different locations on the island for the benefit of the iconic bird locally known as the Veuve. The baths were set up at the Veuve Reserve, the La Digue School, the Flycatcher Lodge, Villa Veuve, and the Community Centre at La Passe.

A source of water is as important to birds as is food. Apart from drinking, water also removes dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from a bird’s plumage. Bird baths are man-made shallow pools from which birds can drink, bathe, preen or cool off. They are normally made in the form of a basin.

Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher favours native Badamier Terminalia catappa and Takamaka dominated Calophyllum innophylum broad-leaved plateau woodland in proximity to wetland areas for its habitat. The wetlands and marshes are also important as breeding grounds for insects, which the birds eat.

But in the dry season the marshes dry up, and the birds have been observed going to domestic sources of water which places them in danger of drinking detergent and being caught by cats while on the ground, says Josiana Rose of the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA), and the education officer at the Veuve Reserve.

“Provision of water baths for the flycatcher will give them safe and easy access to water for drinking and bathing during the dry season that persists for many months,” she says.

Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner) and the SNPA have been promoting the conservation of the Critically Endangered flycatcher through an advocacy and education project whose aim is to help protect the species in its stronghold on La Digue. The project is part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and is supported by Species Champion, Viking Optical. It’s under this partnership that the Friends of the Flycatcher was started at the school.

Although still in its infancy, the club has been involved in a number of activities including cleaning up the island on World Clean-up Day and planting trees in the Veuve Reserve.

The baths are made of fibre glass and stand up to four feet above the ground on a wooden base.

Seychelles millipedes and invasive plants


This is a video of a Seychelles giant millipede, attacked by a crab.

Vulnerable Seychelles giant millipedes change their behaviour in response to the presence of non-native plants, a study finds.

Photos are here.

Seychelles giant tortoise in Britain


From daily The Morning Star in England:

Darwin’s at home in his new wildlife shell-ter

Friday 17 February 2012

Darwin, the first giant tortoise to be donated to Britain by the Seychelles, settled into his new home today.

The aldabra tortoise has been presented to the Cotswold Wildlife Park as part of a conservation partnership with the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens.

The aldabras originate from the inaccessible Aldabra lagoon in the Indian Ocean and are listed as an endangered species.

He’s already 25 years old but he could be in Burford, Oxfordshire, for a while – aldabras can live to 150.