Ecological rescue mission for Mauritian reptiles affected by oil spill

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16 Sept 2020 - Conservationists from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), BirdLife International, National Parks and Conservation Service of Mauritius (NPCS), and Forestry Service have enabled the emergency rescue of three species of rare reptiles, which might otherwise be facing extinction, following the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius. The reptile rescue was made possible with the support of the Jean Boulle Group and further builds on their history of conservation in Mauritius.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the spill small numbers of lesser night geckos, Bojer's skinks, and Bouton's skinks were captured from the southeast islands of Mauritius and held in a temporary bio-secure holding facility on the mainland. However, this was only a temporary solution. Yesterday the reptiles arrived at Jersey Zoo where they are receiving expert care from leading herpetologists and this safety net population will form a breeding programme from which the animals, their offspring or future generations can eventually be released back into the wild.

These Mauritian animals are the only surviving colony globally and just a few hundred individual reptiles of each species survive on the southeast islands of Mauritius. Without swift intervention, the impact of the Wakashio oil spill could have caused irreversible damage and pushed the reptiles closer to extinction.


On 25th July, the MV Wakashio freighter ran aground a few kilometres from nature reserves and national parks which are home to a variety of unique species of plant, bird, and reptile. Within days, approximately 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into the pristine ocean and the shores of these delicate ecosystems. The environmental catastrophe could be devastating half a century of conservation work and push already threatened species even closer to the brink of extinction.


Dr Nik Cole, Durrell's Islands Restoration Manager has 18 years' experience restoring island ecosystems in Mauritius, reducing and preventing species extinction. He explained:


"To ensure the long-term viability of these species it was vital that they were urgently moved to Jersey Zoo, which has over 40 years' experience maintaining Mauritian reptile populations in captivity and which has world class herpetological and veterinary expertise. This is their only chance of survival as the facilities to maintain these reptiles and keep them safe from predators, foreign parasites and disease, long-term, is not currently available in Mauritius. Two of these species have never been held in captivity before, which highlights the expert care required for these animals."


Dr Vikash Tatayah, MWF Conservation Director, said:


"This rescue is our chance to prevent other Mauritian species following the same route as the Dodo, whose extinction wasn't immediately noticed.  When the double crisis of the Wakashio oil-spill and the COVID-19 pandemic is consigned to memory, this effort could have avoided a "second dodo moment" for Mauritius. This rescue is our chance to save this unique Mauritian species and secure a lasting gene-pool, so that they can be re-introduced one day.


Everyone at MWF and Durrell is so grateful to the Jean Boulle Group who have understood how critical it is that we get these reptiles to Jersey Zoo as soon as possible so they are away from the environmental disaster zone."


Nathalie Boulle, for the Jean Boulle Group, said:


"For the last 25 years, our passion for the preservation of wildlife has led us to act in saving vulnerable species all over the world. As Mauritians, we are deeply troubled by the recent Wakashio Disaster. Our latest endeavour, in partnership with our friends at the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, aims to take substantial steps in the conservation of 3 endemic species as well as helping create a lasting ecosystem whose value will be recognized long after the current crises have been consigned to history. As a founder patron of the Rare Bird Club, a major branch of BirdLife International, I know the importance of not letting decades of conservation work go to waste."


Durrell's Chief Executive Officer Dr Lesley Dickie said:


"This is a true emergency in which we had to act quickly and it is also a time when the combined zoo and field expertise of an institution like Durrell comes into its own. We have experts in the wild but we also have dedicated experts in captive care. In conservation, there is rarely a silver bullet solution to the problem. It is combining disciplines that provide for a dynamic and multifaceted approach, which is what is called for in fast-moving, critical situations like this.


While I am confident that we have the expertise across Durrell we can't do this without supporters and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the Jean Boulle Group who have stepped in so generously to get this precious consignment to Jersey."


Patricia Zurita CEO of BirdLife International, said:


"This direct action to sustain vulnerable species in the wake of the oil spill in Mauritius will help both people and wildlife. These animals can now safely reach experienced hands before one day returning to their island home. The impact of a global pandemic makes saving endangered species a huge challenge so finding a way to achieve this is good news for the future economic and ecological prosperity of Mauritius. It shows what we can all achieve, in spite of circumstances, to safeguard the precious natural environment by collaborative effort between conservationists, government and supporters."


These reptiles are unique to the islands of Mauritius and they serve an important role within the ecosystem, as predators, the prey of other threatened animals, but also as pollinators and seed dispersers of threatened plant species. A huge investment, of both time and money, has been made by Durrell, MWF, NPCS, and the Forestry Service over the past 14 years to rebuild the reptile communities on these islands and the oil spill has now put that work in jeopardy. The populations of the rescued species on the affected islands harbour a unique genetic makeup, absent from populations on other islands, which is important to preserve to allow the maximum genetic adaptability of the species in the long-term


Moving the reptiles to Jersey is a lifeline in establishing assurance populations of these animals and their unique genes away from the disaster zone until the long-term impacts of the oil spill are fully understood. These offshore islands offer great diversity in plant and animal life and are home to some of the world's rarest species, which are found nowhere else on Earth.


The island's economy and worldwide reputation for wildlife attracts many visitors to the Mauritian mainland and its many islet national parks given their native biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. Preserving this natural environment and helping the island to recover from the oil spill are important aspects of the economic recovery of Mauritius. The financial impact on tourism from environmental pollution is particularly relevant today given the hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The preservation of Mauritian wildlife is part of the island's strong appeal for international tourism which generated $1.6 billion last year and employs about a fifth of the country's workforce.


ENDS


For further information please contact:


Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Alexandra Shears
Director of Communications & Fundraising
+44 (0)1534 860081
+44 (0)7797740012
www.durrell.org<http://www.durrell.org>


Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
Dr. Vikash Tatayah
Conservation Director
+230 5 250 69 70
+230 697-6097 / 697-6117 / 697-6137
www.mauritian.wildlife.org<http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/>


BirdLife International
Head of Communications
BirdLife Europe
Main number +32 (0)2 280 08 30
Direct Dial  +32 (0)2 541 07 81  Mobile 00 32 476 80 23 40
www.birdlife.org<http://www.birdlife.org>


Jean Boulle Group
Michael Oke/Andy Mills
+44 (0)207 321 0000
www.jeanboullegroup.com<https://www.jeanboullegroup.com>


Notes to Editors


About Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Durrell has worked in Mauritius for over 40 years. The Trust's founder, Gerald Durrell, helped to set up the first captive breeding programmes for what were some of the world's rarest species at the time. Durrell's long-term involvement in the Mascarenes exemplifies how ecosystems can be rebuilt and species brought back from the edge. They have applied their core approach to conservation action in the region with intensive ongoing operations in the field, supported by captive breeding at Jersey Zoo, and training for the next generation of conservation leaders in the region. This approach and long-term partnership with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to help establish protected areas, reintroduce threatened birds and reptiles, eradicate and control invasive predators, restore island ecosystems and raise awareness for species protection have been the backbone of conservation actions that have saved species over the past four decades. www.durrell.org


About Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the largest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation and preservation of the nation's endangered plant and animal species. MWF aims to save threatened Mauritian species through the restoration of entire ecosystems. Their hands-on conservation projects are carried out in Mauritius, including the offshore islets and Rodrigues. Working closely with local and international partners, MWF's long-term aim is to recreate lost ecosystems by saving some of the rarest species from extinction and restoring native forest. www.mauritian.wildlife.org


About Jean Boulle Group
The first Jean Boulle Group conservation project with MWF supported restoration of the wild Mauritius Kestrel population at the property now known as "Kestrel Valley".  Today the Jean Boulle group is a strong supporter of conservation and anti-marine pollution initiatives. Specifically, it has worked alongside experts on reptiles in the 19 islands of the Saint Brandon archipelago and with MWF, ECOSUD and BirdLife International towards conservation and Eco-awareness in Mauritius.


The Jean Boulle Group has also been actively involved in supporting wildlife and with sustainability programs in a number of other territories beyond Mauritius including: education in conservation and replanting in Madagascar, anti-poaching initiatives in Zambia, support with BirdLife's work on Important Biodiversity Areas, the conservation of the critically endangered albatross and extensive participation in the South Georgia Heritage Trust's island invasive species program. A Founder Patron since 2007, Nathalie Boulle was honoured to receive the BirdLife President's Medal in 2013 from HIH Princess Takamado of Japan in gratitude for many years of service to conservation. jeanboullegroup.com


About BirdLife International
BirdLife International is a global partnership of conservation organisations (NGOs) that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. Together we are over 100 BirdLife Partners worldwide - one per country or territory - and growing.


We are driven by our belief that local people, working for nature in their own places but connected nationally and internationally through our global Partnership, are the key to sustaining all life on this planet. This unique local-to-global approach delivers high impact and long-term conservation for the benefit of nature and people.


BirdLife is widely recognised as the world leader in bird conservation. Rigorous science <http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/science> informed by practical feedback from projects on the ground in important sites and habitats enables us to implement successful conservation programmes<http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/programmes> for birds and all nature. Our actions are providing both practical and sustainable solutions significantly benefiting nature and people.  www.birdlife.org

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