September 2011 conservation highlights

30th September 2011

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’
programmes for Madagascar & Comoros, Mascarene Islands, Caribbean Islands, Channel Islands, and Pacific Islands.

‘Critical Species’
programmes for Critically Endangered amphibians, globally threatened primates and threatened birds of South East Asia.

A thought-provoking paper on conservation leadership was published in the high profile journal Conservation Letters, co-authored by Carl Jones. Black, S., Groombridge, J. J., and C. G. Jones (2011). Leadership and conservation effectiveness: finding a better way to lead. Conservation Letters, 4: 329-339. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00184.x

Below is the summary of activities across the programme during the past month.


Islands at Risk - Madagascar and the Comoros

Alaotra – The MaVoa survey of bushmeat consumption showed that duck hunting is widespread around the lake, but that people knew that the gentle lemurs were protected and did not take them.
An Imperial MSc project to design a new analytical technique to monitor Alaotra gentle lemurs was completed and will be made available next month. This is helping us to increase the accuracy in our monitoring efforts for this highly threatened species.

Baly Bay – 2 day workshop organised by the gvt and presided by the Minister in Mahajanga on tortoise trafficking problems. Large number of Ministry Environment and Min. Justice took part, plus civil society and NGO’s. Durrell team had to spend days preparing documents and organising the workshop. Workshop was to develop a national action plan for all tortoises and to discuss the specific issues linked to ploughshare conservation.

Just to highlight the problem, days before the workshop 14 tortoises were seized as part of a shipment leaving Mahajanga for Mayotte. It seems that the smuggler who was caught had done this a few times before!

Menabe – 18 villages visited to assess how the village patrolling is working. In general the impression is that the villagers are motivated and supportive, but there are challenges in terms of enforcing the rules when the find people acting illegally.

Nosivolo – Took a team of 9 technicians, 3 tree nursery people, and one farmer for training from Marolambo to visit WWF and TAFA contour farming projects. This is approach is being developed as a tool to aid agricultural productivity in the region. Development projects have also supported the purchase of 150 spades and 38 beehives.

Ampijoroa – ploughshare tortoises continue to hatch from the incubated clutch. However the quarantine facilities are now full from the 14 tortoises brought down from Baly Bay. Plans have been developed for a much needed expansion to the quarantine facilities.

Manombo – 66 villagers have now received training to be part of the locally led monitoring scheme. This project, which is running in three of our field sites will be the largest community monitoring project in Madagascar.

Madagascar pochard – The Antsohihy hatchery is complete, with the final works carried out on the water piping and the exterior fencing. On 1st Sept, all the ducks were moved to the centre and they have settled into their new home well. Work will continue on completing the office and accommodation space.

The research team carried out a simultaneous count of all 4 lakes, home to the wild population, and found only 13 males and 7 females on Matsaborimena, and no birds at any of the other three lakes. The team has documented the arrival of eight broods since June but no chicks have survived beyond 40 days of age with most dying after 3 weeks. Intensive research is ongoing to investigate why survival of pre-fledged birds is so low.

Comoros – Generally life in the Comoros has been very tough. There has been a major fuel shortage, which led to prolonged power losses throughout the islands.

Led by Bronwen Daniel, work has started in the Comoro Islands to survey Livingstone’s fruit bat roosts for the first time in several years. The first pilot surveys for one (Moya) of the seven known Livingstone’s fruitbat roost sites in the project zone have been completed. Vantage points were identified; hourly roost and dispersal counts completed for a full day. Different methods were tested as was inter-observer variation.

Islands at Risk – Mascarene Islands

Mauritius – all the practitioner and academic partners involved in research in Mauritius over the past decade or two met at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in Canterbury to discuss and agree the strategic direction for research to support conservation in Mauritius. It was an extremely constructive meeting and highlighted some urgent and exciting avenues for conservation research that are required for applied conservation management but that could also have global impact.

Ile aux Aigrettes – we are now heading into the breeding season and the team are still finding Guenther’s gecko eggs from last year, but also now the first eggs of this season. We now know that these geckos lay 2-3 clutches of eggs each season.

Ile Marianne – Trips to Ile Marianne to follow up on the release of lesser night geckos that were sent back to Mauritius from Jersey, showed that the animals found were healthy and several of the females were gravid. Of the eggs that were placed out during the release, all but two had hatched.

Islands at Risk – Caribbean Islands

Montserrat Mountain chickens – Two of our field team took part in the ISLA course in Dominican Republic (see below). Surveys carried out on the island, show that while most people know what a mountain chicken is, and are proud of it, they have never seen one and don’t go into the forests where they are found. They know that a disease is the main threat, but they don’t know what it is or how its spread.

A former Durrell staffer, Ben Tapley, is currently leading the Dominican efforts for the frog, and we are organising exchange trips between the two islands.

Cayman islands - Durrell’s Cayman Sister Isles Iguana Project found its successful conclusion this year when in summer, Matt Goetz made his fourth annual trip to Little Cayman. As well as collecting data in the field, Matt took part in the first conservation planning meeting for the Cayman Sister Isles rock iguana. A three year plan was drafted at the moment and is being led by the Cayman Island’s Dept. of Environment and National Trust, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and the International Reptile Conservation Foundation. We will remain on-hand to provide advice when needed.

Dominican Republic – a second Imperial MSc has been completed, which was a field study of Hispaniolan solenodons to investigate habitat use of the species at forest-agriculture boundaries. The thesis reports will be made available in the next month

Training and education - Island Species-Led Action (ISLA) course, 18 conservation professionals from 4 countries (Dominican Republic, Haiti, Montserrat and Puerto Rico) attended this 8 day course in Dominican Republic. The course was designed in close collaboration between Durrell, Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola and Island Conservation and was linked to our Darwin project on endemic mammals. The course aimed to support the development of capacity within Hispaniola for the recovery of threatened species. The workshop not only provided biological training but also facilitation skills to help support the delivery of the mammal species action plan workshop to be conducted in 2012 as part of the wider Darwin Initiative-funded project.


Participants on the ISLA Course (Jorge Brocca)

Islands at Risk – Channel Islands

Red-billed choughs - Six juvenile red-billed choughs were imported from Paradise Park, UK. Once they have completed quarantine these young birds will go on public display and then form part of a future reintroduction group for the island.

Island birds – led by Glyn Young, Durrell, States of Jersey and the Societe Jersiaise have published the first assessment of the conservation status of Jersey’s birds. Based on years of monitoring data, this establishes the baseline for future assessments.

Training and education - Durrell Conservation Learning Network - One of this year’s DESMAN participants, Camila Nali, was awarded a £600 grant towards equipment for a lion tamarin field survey project in Brazil.

18 applications were received for the annual Durrell Conservation Award grants, which are open to all graduates of Durrell’s Training Programme. The selection process is currently underway.

Critical Species

Primates - Pied tamarin twins were successfully hand-reared and are being reintegrated back into their natal group.

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