Darwin's Songbirds Appeal
As 2012 draws to a close we would like to thank you wholeheartedly for supporting us for another year, especially at a time when there are so many other demands on your time and generosity. We have achieved so much but here are some highlights that would not have been possible without your support.
One of our major successes this year has been the successful breeding of the Madagascar pochard at our captive breeding facility in Antsohihy. The birth of eighteen ducklings in April represents an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction. Seven years ago, people thought this bird was already extinct and yet the discovery of one small population and now the arrival of these ducklings have led to real hope that these birds can one day flourish again.
Our work with the world’s most threatened tortoise, the ploughshare tortoise, continues and the discovery of baby tortoises born in the wild earlier this year has given us hope that this species is on the road to recovery. We still face huge challenges but by working alongside the Malagasy government and the international conservation community to protect the tortoise’s habitat and halt the illegal pet trade, we believe that we can have a positive impact on the future of this species.
As the direct result of our autumn appeal we will, next spring, start rebuilding our Telfair skink hatchery in Mauritius, to enable incubation of our precious eggs and protect the small hatchlings from predators. This little lizard is a vital link in the chain in supporting the Mauritian islands’ ecosystems and through our work we will prevent another species from following the way of the Dodo.
Looking ahead to next year we are focussing on our work in the Galapagos to save the critically endangered Floreana mockingbird. In partnership with The Galapagos Conservation Trust, the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Parks, we have launched a new effort to restore this species to its home island of Floreana.
We hope that having read more about this songbird and the threats it faces, you will want to help us in our fight to save this songbird from extinction. Please make a donation today – even a small amount will make a big difference. Thank you.
We wish you a joyous festive season and a very happy and healthy New Year.
Dr Andrew Terry
Head of Conservation
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the Equator, 972 km off the coast of Ecuador. The songbirds of the Galapagos played an important role in Charles Darwin’s development of the theory of evolution by natural selection.
There are around 20 native species of songbird found on the Galapagos, however, several of these species, including the vermilion flycatcher (pictured on the front of this card) are in decline. Sadly, the birds are threatened by a range of factors including: bot fly parasites [which may kill entire broods of nestlings], predation from introduced species such as rats and cats, as well as habitat loss through human activity.
Scalesia forest is a key habitat for songbirds, but only one per cent of the original Scalesia forest now remains on Santa Cruz, while none is left on San Cristobal and only small fragments remain on Floreana, Santiago and Southern Isabela. Songbirds also suffer from reduced food sources and nest sites owing to loss of their habitat. Recent research on Santa Cruz reveals that at least six of Darwin’s finches underwent a dramatic decline between 1997 and 2010.
The mockingbirds of the Galapagos are thought to have been the key inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution. There are four types of mockingbird: Española, Galapagos, San Cristobal and the Floreana mockingbird. Sadly, the Floreana mockingbird is now one of the rarest birds in the world.
Although the Floreana mockingbird was recorded as being common on Floreana in 1835, it was probably extinct on the island by 1888. It currently remains only on two tiny islets: Champion and Gardner, making this species Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
This bird’s extinction from Floreana is believed to have been caused by a number of factors
including hunting, predation by introduced species (such as black rats and cats) and the loss of its favoured nesting and food source, the prickly pear cactus, caused by goats and donkeys.
The population is currently estimated to be just 63 individual birds on Champion and 300 to 400 on Gardner. With such shockingly low numbers, this species’ very survival is threatened.Without an immediate and concerted effort to effectively manage and protect the Floreana mockingbird, it may become extinct on the Galapagos Islands.
Since 2007 the Galapagos Conservation Trust and Durrell have been working in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service to save the Floreana mockingbird, with the aim of reintroducing the bird to Floreana Island. This is ultimately the only hope for the survival of this species, as the two tiny islets that make up its only present habitat are too small to support viable populations. A key stage towards reintroduction will be restoring the island to ensure that sufficient native habitat is in place for the mockingbirds. This will be achieved by reducing the number of introduced species, strengthening strict quarantine rules and also supplementation of cactus forests as a key feeding and nesting resource.