October 2010 conservation highlights

6th December 2010

Solenodon field work

Durrell leads conservation efforts at its wildlife park, through field programmes in priority regions around the world and through the activities of the International Training Centre to save species from extinction. Our Conservation Programme focuses on regions containing highly threatened species and habitats, and is separated into two priority themes: ‘Islands at Risk’ and ‘Critical Species’. Below is the summary of activities across the programme during the past month.

In the news

October saw the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity meet in Nagoya, Japan. This is the global governing convention for conservation and in the Year of Biodiversity – it was going to be a big meeting. It was inevitable that it was not going to live up to this expectation, and much of the time was spent debating sticking points between the North and South, on access and benefit sharing. In the end a deal was reached, which in itself is a major achievement. The outcomes were a mixed bag, some commitments could have gone further, especially in relation to protected areas and marine protection, but those around species conservation were bold and provide a clear framework for Durrell’s actions going forward.

In response to the conference, a paper was published in the leading journal Science which described how species are becoming increasingly threatened as global conservation efforts are insufficient to counter the threats to biodiversity. However, it did list 64 species which had become less threatened with extinction thanks to conservation efforts – and seven (11%) of these were Durrell projects over the years, which clearly demonstrates the impact of our work.

Islands at Risk

Caribbean Islands

• The Last Survivors project which aims to conserve the Endangered Hispaniolan solenodon and hutia has completed its first year with celebrations held at the British Ambassador’s residence in the Dominican Republic (more details here http://blog.durrell.org/index.cfm/2010/11/26/One-Year-On).

• The Last Survivors project also welcomes the start of a new PhD project with the University of Reading and ZSL. Ros Kennerley is studying for a BBSRC-funded PhD studentship on the ecology and conservation needs of the Hispaniolan solenodon, which will inform future management actions.

• In Montserrat, the mountain chicken project coordinator, Sarah Louise Smith, has got field efforts for this Darwin Initiative funded project off the ground. She has led a number of surveys into the ghauts where we would be releasing frogs in early 2011. She has also started to raise the profile of the project and has established the steering committee, which includes members from other government departments, NGOs and landowners.
Madagascar and the Comoros

• The smuggling of ploughshare tortoises continues to be a major problem. A Malagasy national was arrested in Bangkok with cases of radiated tortoises and one ploughshare tortoise. Also our village patrols in Baly Bay apprehended people in the act of stealing ploughshares from the field. This was a major result for the team and shows that it is possible catch poachers in the field.

• Four ploughshares were repatriated from Kuala Lumpur to Madagascar along with 400+ radiated tortoises and 11 spider tortoises. We are holding the ploughshares in quarantine before they are introduced to our captive breeding programme. Again this is a significant result showing that Malaysia is tackling illegal smuggling.

• The burning of forest and wetland habitat to make way for agriculture continues to be a major problem in our field sites. Two in particular, Menabe and Alaotra, are particularly bad. Using remote fire monitoring to monitor habitat change, we will continue working with local authorities and communities reduce the burning.

• The research paper describing the new species of carnivore named in honour of Gerald Durrell and found in the Alaotra region, Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli), was published in October (http://tinyurl.com/383ocpo) and gained extensive media coverage as the identification of new carnivores is a rare event.

• Merlijn Jocques has joined the team and he will spend the next two years working as a Field Biologist on a Bristol Zoo led project http://www.bcsf.org.uk/comoros to conserve forests and their biodiversity in the Comoro Islands. In particular he will be helping to assess and map the biodiversity of the Comoros, including surveys of the Critically Endangered Anjouan and Moheli Scops Owls and the Endangered Livingstones fruit bat, in order to design forest conservation measures.


• It is currently the peak of the breeding season for the Telfairs skinks and Guenther’s geckos, and many of the released females on Ile aux Aigrettes appear gravid, which is a very positive sign.
• Nik Cole joined a trip to survey the St Brandon islands off Mauritius, led by North-West University, South Africa to obtain seabird eggs for the examination of persistent organic pesticides (POPs). They visited 18 of the 31 islands to conduct sea and shorebird counts and collected eggs to analyse for POP content. These islands are very important as turtle nesting sites (found 539 nest pits and 279 nets tracks).
• After extensive trapping efforts, the team in Mauritius is sure that the island of Ile Marianne is again free of shrews and therefore ready for the release of the captive bred lesser night geckos. A report on the trapping and also the level of illegal activities, absence of law enforcement and damage recently undertaken by core-drilling on the island was written and sent to NPCS and MWF.

Critical Species


• The Alaotran Gentle Lemur http://www.iucnredlist.org/sotdfiles/hapalemur-alaotrensis.pdf and Pied Tamarin http://www.iucnredlist.org/sotdfiles/saguinus-bicolor.pdf were IUCN’s Species of the Day in October.

• Our imported Sulawesi black macaques that came to us from a variety of institutions have all been successfully mixed with each other. The next step, once the animals have completed their quarantine isolation, is to integrate with our main group. The EEP committee for this species has made the pragmatic decision to incorporate those animals that test positive for the Simian T-cell Leukaemia virus into existing populations and monitor so we can proceed with mixing unencumbered.

• Dr Tim Wright, senior keeper on the mammal department primarily responsible for lemurs, was appointed Deputy Head of Training. Tim’s extensive knowledge of primate husbandry, genetics and studbook analysis and GIS skills means he is well placed to teach existing courses and develop the training programme in new areas.


• In October Durrell ran a six-day training workshop in Madagascar to develop capacity for the detection of the amphibian fungus chytridiomycosis, if or when it arrives in the country. Both governmental and non-governmental staff took part. A key output was a national plan to enable Malagasy amphibian biologists to monitor wild amphibian populations to detect chytrid as soon after its arrival as possible. Participants received training in screening for chytrid as well as how to establish captive breeding programmes.

• The amphibian course was the first activity within Durrell’s new Amphibian Initiative, which aims to address amphibian declines in key hotspots around the world. Engaging in areas of high amphibian diversity and threat, and where we have a field presence, our focus is initially on Hispaniola in the Caribbean and Madagascar.

• Javier Lopez, Head of Veterinary Services, and Melissa Frost, Veterinary Nurse, travelled to Parken Zoo in Sweden to develop anaesthesia protocols for mountain chickens. Standard anaesthetics have been unsuccessful with this species in the past. Perfecting this technique will allow us to carry out necessary veterinary procedures when required and the implantation of radio transmitters which will be crucial in future reintroductions.

SE Asian Birds

• The eighth iteration of the Island Species-Led Action (ISLA) course was run over 10 days at Mindanao State University- Iligan Institute of Technology, Mindanao, Philippines, and was designed in close collaboration with Professor Olga Nuñeza, Vice-Chancellor of the university campus.

• Seventeen conservationists took part and the aim was to further develop skills to manage the recovery of threatened endemic species. A £1000 post-course seed grant was also offered to participants to help them put into practice some of the skills and understanding developed on the course.

• The focal species for this iteration of the course was the Philippine eagle, possibly the largest bird of prey in the world. Fieldtrips were made to the Philippine Eagle Foundation breeding centre and advice was given to help improve breeding success. The manager of the centre will be attending the DESMAN course in 2011 in order to help her develop the ex-situ component of the recovery programme for this Critically Endangered island species.

Other news

• Richard Young, Durrell’s Head of Conservation Science has recently been appointed Co-Chair of the IUCN Small Mammal Specialist Group. A Specialist Group Chair is responsible for advising the World Conservation Union (IUCN) on conservation matters relating to their group. The Small Mammals (the rodent, shrew and hedgehog orders) covers around 2700 species (half of all species) but Richard’s position will focus on enabling conservation for the most threatened species within this group.

• Dr Carl Jones, who leads Durrell’s conservation efforts in Mauritius, was a co-author on a major paper published in the high profile journal Conservation Letters entitled “Standards for documenting and monitoring bird reintroduction projects” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00113.x/pdf

Follow conservation at Durrell on:

Dodo Blog: blog.durrell.org
Twitter: @DrRichardYoung

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