(Today in Seychelles) Seabird poaching - Gruesome discovery on rocky outcrop near Praslin

(Today in Seychelles) The remains of thousands of illegally poached seabirds were recently discovered on a rocky outcrop near Praslin, in a massive blow to conservation efforts of the protected species.

by W. J. May

An anonymous informant found over 3,000 sooty terns (golet) and wedge-tailed shearwaters (fouke) on 15 November on a small island opposite Anse Matelot, a remote beach on Praslin’s north coast. News of the gruesome find was then passed onto environmental authorities for further investigation.

ICS says over 3000 sooty terns and wedge tailed shearwaters were discovered Photo credit ICS

ICS says over 3000 sooty terns and wedge-tailed shearwaters were discovered (Photo credit ICS)

One such body was the Island Conservation Society (ICS), an environmental NGO which runs conservation centres on five islands across Seychelles. Aride is one of these islands and the most northerly of Seychelles’ granitic islands, located 9 kilometres north of Praslin and measuring 71 hectares in size.

Aride is also one of the most important seabird colonies in the Indian Ocean, home to around half a million birds and up to 10 species. ICS has said it is certain the poached seabirds in question were taken from Aride, which was designated as a protected nature reserve in 1979.

Poachers appear to have had begun preparing their catch for selling, with packets of salt found near the bird carcasses. The reasons they left them to rot has not been determined.

ICS suspects some of the poachers come from Praslin as that is where the seabirds are generally sold. According to information the NGO has received, once the poachers return from their trip, they load the seabirds in special trucks hidden under catches of fish before delivering them to clients.

The location the seabirds were found also gives an insight into the tactics the poachers use to transport their ill-gotten gains from natural habitat to the local market, where significant demand is driving the illegal harvesting of seabirds.

Poaching of seabirds in Seychelles is not uncommon. Back in May this year, for example, police opened investigations into 11 men after they were caught onboard a vessel between Silhouette and Mahé in possession of sizeable quantities of suspected sea turtle and seabird meat.

However, the sheer number of seabirds involved in this most recent find is rarely heard of. ICS Deputy CEO, Shane Emilie, told TODAY last week this is the first incident of its kind he has ever come across.

“We feel disgusted, angry and sad because it goes so blatantly against all our conservation efforts to protect these beautiful species. It is disappointing because we see that culture is coming before conservation. People that eat seabirds say their ancestors did it so it is their right. I’m sorry, it’s not. Under the regulations, the birds also have their rights, which is to be protected for the years ahead so this means no illegal harvesting,” Emilie said.

The 15 November incident is the 11th time in 2020 that ICS has found direct evidence of poachers taking seabirds from Aride. “This year, we’ve noticed that, since the outbreak of the pandemic and a decline in tourist numbers, people are resorting to getting revenue elsewhere and so increasing their efforts to steal seabirds,” Emilie noted.

The partially salted remains of the seabirds hidden among the rocks Photo credit ICS

(The partially salted remains of the seabirds hidden among the rocks Photo credit ICS)

ICS has increased its patrols around Aride, but with resources lacking and so much landmass to cover, sometimes it can feel like a losing battle.

Stella Snowdon, one of 12 ICS staff permanently based on Aride, said that poachers are becoming more and more brazen in their attempts.

“It is really tough when you have poachers coming onto the island so regularly. They are so brazen that even when we see them, and yell at them or shine lights in their direction, they often hide in the woods then resume their activities later,” the conservation officer said.

In recent weeks, poachers have even snuck into ICS’ camp on Aride and stolen goods from an onsite dive centre. “It’s kind of scary that they’re becoming that bold,” Snowdon said.

Asked for her thoughts on why such strong local demand still exists for poached seabirds, Snowdon pointed to cultural and status reasons.

“It’s considered a delicacy but it is also status. When something is regulated, some people want it more purely because it’s a kind of forbidden fruit. Some people are drawn to things they can’t have. I think it is also difficult when there is a legal market for some birds as it makes it harder to explain why you can collect some but not others,” she noted.

Under the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Regulations, anyone caught poaching protected seabirds is liable to pay a fine of up to SCR500,000 and serve two years in prison.

This article first appeared in the Today in Seychelles on Monday 30 November 2020. Republished with permission

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