Seychelles Paradise bird still in danger-Let us save it!

There have been great fanfares for conservation success in Seychelles recently. Unless you’ve been on another planet for the past year you’ll known about the recoveries or the new knowledge we have about species like Magpie robin or pi Santez, the  Scops owl or syer, and the White eye or Zwazo linet. Conservation programs by Nature Seychelles, the Seychelles government and private island owners and managers have enabled these unique Seychelles birds to be taken off the Critical list of the most endangered species of the world. Seychelles has received international accolades for these flagship examples of conservation action, which also offer hope and inspiration to others. We have shown we have the knowledge and expertise to plan and manage globally recognized recovery programmes. But, this work isn’t finished.

Seychelles black paradise flycatcher © J. Watson

Where birds are concerned, there is one species left on the Critically Endangered list. It is arguable the most eye-catching and flamboyant species of all, but it is familiar only to residents of and visitors to La Digue. It is known locally as the Veuve, and more widely as the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher.

Because the breeding population is confined to La Digue, and because its population is quite small, the species is regarded as having a Critical status in world conservation terms. All eggs are, so to speak, in one basket. One major ecological disruption, or disease outbreak, for example, could spell disaster for the species. Loss of the Veuve is unthinkable; and would be a major setback for the reputation of our natural environment that we have worked so hard to earn.

To secure the Veuve’s future we need to spread the risk, and find ways to establish new populations on other islands. Those other islands need to be ready to take the birds – the natural habitat and timing must be right. The existing population on La Digue needs to be secured – any birds taken from it to repopulate further islands should be quickly replaced by new birds born to the remaining La Digue population. As we have seen with other species like the Seychelles warbler, where the habitat is good, the population soon recovers to its original level, filling the habitat capacity available.

The evidence is that the La Digue population is at full capacity now. Some birds have already made the crossing to neighboring islands like Marianne, indicating that they are seeking new homes. At one time the Veuve was widespread on Praslin and all its surrounding islands, but habitat loss, predation by alien predators and human interference pushed them out. They survive on La Digue where the habitat is still good. Increased awareness of how special and valuable the birds are has helped, as they are no longer persecuted by people as they once were.

A lot of good work has been done on La Digue over the years to nature and cherish the Veuve population there. The people of La Digue are rightly proud to have this beautiful species on their island, and it is a popular attraction for tourist. It will be an even prouder day if and when we can say that the species has been reestablished in its rightful place on other islands from which is has retreated, and has recovered to a position where it too can be taken off the Critical list. We have met these challenges before we can do so again.

Nature Seychelles, March 22nd, 2006.

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