Emergency reptile rescue from Mauritius oil spill to Jersey Zoo shown in new mini-doc

On Thursday 8th October, Durrell, in partnership with Ports of Jersey, is launching a minidocumentary, made by Freedom Media, to tell the incredible story of the emergency rescue mission of three reptile species from the devastating Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius.

Tune in at 18:30 BST to watch the premiere on Durrell's YouTube channel. Hear first-hand from frontline conservationists in Mauritius about the terrible impact of this ecological disaster and witness the incredible efforts that went on behind the scenes to secure the future of these species.

The film captures the remarkable perseverance of so many individuals and organisations to make this rescue mission possible and bring these precious reptiles to Jersey Zoo. All 66 animals are now safe in Jersey and are receiving the expert care they need from Durrell’s herpetologists to ensure that one day these individuals, their offspring or future generations can be returned to the wild.

Commenting on the rescue, Durrell’s CEO, Dr Lesley Dickie, says, “We always work in partnership and this film really tells the story of just how many people were involved in ensuring these Mauritian reptiles were urgently rescued from immediate danger and bought to Jersey, where our team of captive breeding experts can care for them. I am so grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen. Without swift intervention, the impact of the Wakashio oil spill could have caused irreversible damage and pushed the reptiles closer to extinction.

Co-ordinating this mission was no small undertaking and there were many challenges along the way. We really couldn’t have done it without the generous support of the Jean Boulle Group, who enabled the transport of these animals, and Ports of Jersey, who have been so supportive in handling all the complex aviation logistics.”

On behalf of Ports of Jersey, CEO Matt Thomas, says, “We are delighted and proud to have helped Durrell with this amazing rescue mission. The team at Ports of Jersey has a debt of gratitude to a long list of friends – regulators, handling agents, Heathrow Airport, immigration and endangered species experts to name a few, who have worked with us to make this happen. In such strange times, it is wonderful to be part of a truly good news story.”

On 15th September, 30 lesser night geckos, 30 Bojer’s skinks and six Bouton’s skinks arrived in Jersey. These animals were captured from the southeast islands of Mauritius in the aftermath of the oil spill caused by the MV Wakashio freighter, which ran aground only a few kilometres from nature reserves and national parks.

The southeast islands are home to a variety of unique species of plant, bird and reptile, which are found nowhere else on Earth. Within days, approximately 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into the pristine ocean and covered the shores of these delicate island ecosystems. This environmental catastrophe could devastate half a century of conservation work and push already threatened species even closer to the brink of extinction.

Lesser night geckos, Bojer’s skinks and Bouton’s skinks are unique to the offshore islands of Mauritius and serve an important role within the ecosystem as predators or prey of other threatened animals, but also as pollinators and seed dispersers of rare plant species. A huge investment of both time and money has been made by Durrell, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS), and the Forestry Service over the past 14 years to rebuild the reptile communities on these islands. However, the oil spill has now put that work in jeopardy. The reptile populations from the affected southeast islands harbour a unique genetic makeup absent from populations on other islands, which is important to preserve to allow the maximum genetic adaptability of the species in the long-term.

Moving the reptiles to Jersey is a lifeline in establishing assurance populations of these animals and safeguarding their unique genes away from the disaster zone until the long-term impacts of the oil spill are fully understood. These offshore islands offer great diversity in plant and animal life and are home to some of the world’s rarest species, found nowhere else on the planet.

To make this rescue mission possible, Durrell worked in partnership with MWF and NPCS in Mauritius, and the Jean Boulle Group. In addition, so many individuals and organisations assisted with the logistics. The partners would like to extend their sincere thanks to:

32 Squadron, Airline Ambassadors Association, Animal & Plant Health Agency, Border Force London Heathrow, Deputy Director of Civil Aviation for Jersey, Diaspora Appeal by Ansam nou pli for, External Relations Department of Government of Jersey, Gama Aviation, Government of Mauritius, Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, managed by the City of London Corporation, JCS Livestock, JEM Freight, Jersey Customs, Jersey Chief Veterinary Officer and his team, Mauritius Division of Veterinary Services, Office of the Lieutenant Governor (Jersey), Office for the UK Minister of the Environment, Ports of Jersey, Signature Flight Support, The Forestry Service (Mauritius).

Photos: Durrell / MWF