Vets help save paradise islands' wildlife

White eye photo by Julie Gane

A British veterinary charity Wildlife Vets International aims to help prevent critically endangered birds and animals, which are unique to the islands of Seychelles and Mauritius, from following the Dodo and Mauritius giant tortoise into the history books.With no wildlife veterinary expertise available on the islands to support one of the richest biodiversities in the world, WVI is mapping out a programme to deliver veterinary aid and training within the Indian Ocean Biodiversity Hotspot. 

Fund-raising this week through The Big Give Christmas Challenge will help save some of the Indian Ocean islands' rarest creatures from the threat of extinction. Island conservationists are working to secure such rare bird species as the Seychelles paradise flycatcher, olive white eye and magpie robin. In Mauritius plans are afoot to establish new populations of the echo parakeet, pink pigeon and Mauritius kestrel.

 Seychelles Paradise flycatcher pair (photo by Jeff Watson)

WVI co-founder and director Andrew Greenwood visited the islands in November to assess the situation, progress plans and launch a fundraising campaign.

In the Seychelles he met David Rowat, Chairman of the Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles. Together with the Banyan Tree Hotel Resort on Mahe, they have launched the island's first turtle and terrapin rehabilitation centre.

Dr Rowat highlighted the need for wildlife vet expertise to tackle health and welfare issues. He gave the example of the mysterious burrowing barnacle that affects Seychelles turtles, damaging their carapace and causing them to lose buoyancy.

On Cousin Island Mr Greenwood saw a healthy population of magpie robins, brought back from the brink of extinction. A surviving single island population of just 12 birds now numbers 280 across five islands - thanks to intensive work by Nature Seychelles and partners.

 Endemic Seychelles Magpie robin with identification rings (Photo by Glenn Jackway)

But on nearby Aride Island, young magpie robins are not surviving to adulthood and some have succumbed to a mystery and fatal eye disease. Without access to specialist avian vet advice and pathology to identify causes, this hard won population is falling back.

Dr Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles and recently elected Chair of the new National Environmental Advisory Council, praised work that has restored viable populations of not only the magpie robin but also the olive white-eye, Scops owl and paradise flycatcher but had words of warning….

"We have achieved conservation miracles, but there is always the danger of slipping back and without wildlife veterinary expertise on these islands we could be facing disaster.”

In Mauritius, bronze statues on the island reserve of Ile Aux Aigrettes are a stark reminder of species already lost, including the Dodo, double billed parrot, Mauritius blue pigeon and the giant skink.

Determined to stop future extinctions, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) has plans to create new populations of the distinctive echo parakeet, pink pigeon and Mauritius kestrel - all needing disease screening to ensure healthy birds are released.

Dr Greenwood, who has worked with MWF for 20 years, wants to continue his work tackling potentially fatal diseases that cause echo parakeet feathers to fall out and pink pigeon chicks to die in the nest.

Deep in the Black River Gorges National Park a few hundred echo parakeets and pink pigeons fly free. They are a tribute to years of hard work by MWF and the Mauritian government, hatching eggs and rearing young birds from nests of just five known breeding pairs of parakeets and a mere handful of pink pigeons.

 Seychelles Scops Owl photo by HERVÉ CHELLÉ

The Mauritius kestrel, down to just four birds at one time and now numbering 400, is poised for translocation to a new forest site. Pink pigeons will follow the same route. 

The introduction of Aldabra giant tortoises, originally from the Seychelles, following extinction of their counterpart in Mauritius, provides natural grazing pressure and seed dispersal for restored island habitats. 

Captive breeding and release means the once threatened Telfair’s skink is now thriving and there were enough threatened Round Island boas to translocate to another island. 

Despite such worthy successes, MWF’s Conservation Director, Vikash Tatayah, added his own plea for WVI support.

"We have had some major successes but as recently as 1975 Mauritius lost yet another species, the burrowing boa of Round Island.

"To be able to save these creatures we have needed the best veterinary advice we could get on both disease and population management. We need to see this collaboration continued as we shall need to support these creatures for many years to come, if not forever."

 Seychelles warbler (by Martijn Hammers)

Andrew Greenwood is adamant that WVI will continue to play a vital part in the fight to save what's left of such globally-significant biodiversity.  

He said: "None of these creatures is found anywhere else. They are simply unique, and most of these threatened species have been reduced to a single population on one island, rendering them extremely vulnerable to extinction from disease. 

"That's why establishing new populations is so important. To do that successfully, disease screening is needed to ensure healthy new populations, together with health monitoring and access to expert pathology to identify causes of death.” 

All major conservation agencies are supporting the programme, including the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, Nature Seychelles, Seychelles Agricultural Agency, Island Conservation Society and Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles.

To enable WVI to provide veterinary support to these organisations, please take part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge on 4th, 5th and 6th December to win a chance to double your donation. 

The Big Give Christmas Challenge Donation page  

Editors Notes: 

Wildlife Vets International (WVI) was created in 2004 by a group of highly experienced zoo and wildlife vets to give conservation workers the specialist veterinary support and skills they need. WVI delivers veterinary expertise to endangered species conservation projects worldwide and works at the centre of field operations saving threatened and endangered animals. A particular strength is the education and training of local staff working hands-on in the animals' natural range - ensuring long-lasting benefits to projects and contributing to sustainable solutions. 

The veterinary services it offers are provided by selected leading veterinary specialists seconded to projects from their everyday work. WVI has an excellent track record of delivering support to a wide range of projects, including the reintroduction of the critically endangered Amur leopard in the Russian Far East, conservation of the endangered Bengal tiger in the Bangladesh Sundarbans, painted dog conservation in Zimbabwe, primate conservation in Nigeria and conservation of the critically endangered Seychelles paradise flycatcher.   

Please contact Development Manager, Olivia Walter, for more information on 01535 661 298 or 07866 088 989 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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Photos for download

Useful websites: 

www.wildlifevetsinternational.org

http://www.natureseychelles.org/

www.mauritian-wildlife.org

http://seychelles-turtles.blogspot.co.uk/

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