The population of the Mauritius fody, already small in the 1970s, declined rapidly into the 1990s, with over half of both individuals and range lost. By 2001, it was thought that little more than 100 breeding pairs remained.
Since 1993, the drop in numbers has slowed and the range of the main breeding population has increased as juveniles disperse and set up territories, but smaller outlying populations are still at great risk.
Although clearance of native vegetation started the downward trend, introduced rats and macaque monkeys are now the main culprits, preying on eggs and chicks in nests. The Mauritius fody seems able to live in all types of native forest, but surprisingly also uses exotic vegetation – in fact, non-native habitats may be less vulnerable to predation.
Rats and monkeys are controlled to counter the catastrophic impact of these introduced predators, and building on the extraordinary success of captive breeding and release programmes in Mauritius for three of the island’s most threatened endemic birds – the Mauritius kestrel, the pink pigeon and the echo parakeet – Durrell and our partners, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, began harvesting eggs from wild fody nests.
The chicks are hand-reared while their parents can lay and rear another clutch. A captive-breeding programme in Mauritius has also been successful.
Habitat restoration is another weapon in the fight to prevent the extinction of this species. The coral island of Ile aux Aigrettes is the site of a comprehensive restoration project and a release programme for Mauritius fodies, run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, began there in 2003. As part of the project, 45 hand-reared chicks were released on to the island in 2005 and the birds are breeding successfully – in 2006, about 40 young fledged.
The possibility of moving fodies to other islands is also being looked at.