Jersey Zoo bids farewell to its last Saint Lucia parrot
The Saint Lucia parrot is only found on the Eastern Caribbean island of Saint Lucia and is known locally as "Jacquot". Durrell's involvement with these colourful birds began in 1975 when around 100 were estimated to remain on the island. Despite the parrots being officially protected since 1849, populations of the birds rapidly declined from the 1950s due to increased habitat destruction, hunting, and the illegal pet trade.
Durrell’s previous Head of the Bird Department, David Jeggo, helped establish a captive breeding programme for the birds at Jersey Zoo, bringing in nine parrots, with seven of them from the wild. Durrell's current Head of Birds, Dr Glyn Young, joined the Trust in 1983 and helped hand-rear the first Saint Lucia parrot chicks bred at the zoo.
"They originally came to the zoo in 1975/76 because David Jeggo had taken a considerable interest in their plight," says Glyn.
"In the 1970s, they were down to around 100 individuals. David worked with the Saint Lucia Government and then UK conservationist Paul Butler, who went on to work in the Government Forestry Department."
In 1989, a captive-bred pair from the zoo were escorted from Jersey to Saint Lucia by the then Saint Lucian prime minister, The Honorable John Compton, to become ambassadors for their species and help raise awareness for the parrot’s plight and the need to conserve and restore the island’s rainforest.
With the expertise in captive breeding in Jersey mixed with a highly successful education programme launched by the Saint Lucian Government, Durrell, Paul Butler, and Rare, the population of the birds began to increase steadily. In 2009, a study showed the number of wild parrots had risen to 1,750-2,250 individuals. The decision was made to end the captive breeding programme in Jersey due to the recovery of the wild population of parrots.
"David and Paul worked very closely on this project, and it was because of their and Saint Lucia’s effort that the parrot was saved," says Glyn.
"It's a very encouraging story, and Saint Lucia and Durrell should be very proud. Our last parrot at Jersey Zoo, Gabriel, was named after Gabriel Charles, the Head of Forestry in Saint Lucia who did so much to support David and Paul."
The work to save the Saint Lucia parrot has been one of Durrell's longest and most successful projects. Gabriel contributed significantly to the captive breeding programme, siring eight offspring over his lifetime and, after some time away at Chester Zoo, spent his well-earned retirement being cared for by the keepers at Jersey Zoo. He will be greatly missed by staff, visitors and volunteers alike.