The Montserrat oriole is a small perching bird that lives only on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, where it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the very near future. Montserrat covers only 103 sq km (40 sq miles). Deforestation by humans already threatened the oriole, but in 1995 it also faced the onslaught of super-heated ash flows and toxic gases from the Soufrière Hills volcano.
Destruction of most of its remaining forest habitat has left the oriole population in a critical condition. Some scientists have estimated that if the eruptions continue, the species will be extinct within the next 10-15 years. We do not yet know the full extent of the oriole population’s devastation, but monitoring continues when it is not too dangerous.
In 1999 an intrepid member of our bird staff rescued eight orioles from forest beneath Montserrat’s smoking volcano, and here at Durrell breeding trials began on a species new to captivity.
One year after their evacuation, we bred these volcano refugees – a world first! Now if the worst happens in the wild, some orioles will be safe in captivity. Montserrat’s only endemic bird and national symbol will not be lost forever.