Discovered during a vegetation survey on Flat Island where it is thought to be endemic, the beautiful orange-tailed skink is an undescribed form of the Macchabé skink and is still waiting formal recognition as a distinct species or subspecies.
Invasive predators such as black rats and cats are known to have high impacts on endemic reptiles. The removal of these animals from Flat Island was conducted to support the recovery of existing native species. Introduced mammals were also removed from other islands to further reduce the threat of predation on endemic reptiles.
Genetic data collected from 12 captured skinks is used to generate this first estimate but regular population monitoring is still required to establish a more accurate figure. Durrell staff develop techniques to monitor the orange-tailed skink population on Flat Island which is instrumental in tracking the status of the skinks.
A detailed study demonstrated the orange-tailed skink's preference for small patches of mature deep leaf littered forest. Knowledge of species ecology, such as habitat preferences, is important in determining which sites would be suitable for establishing new populations through releases or translocations.
Increased human activity intensifies the risk of predator introduction that could impact negatively upon endemic species. Durrell, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks and Conservation Service recommends the island Gunner's Quoin (closed to public access) for the translocation of the skinks.
Durrell and partners move 82 skinks from Flat Island to the restored Gunner's Quoin where a sub-population is established. This quick hands-on management safeguards the species from potential threats on Flat Island and reduces the threat of extinction. Further research into their ecology is conducted in case there is a future need to bring them into captivity.
Intense monitoring, using techniques developed by the reptile team, provides enough data to accurately estimate the orange-tailed skink population. Surveys of Gunner's Quoin reveal that the translocated skinks are breeding but are still restricted to a very small area and their full establishment is uncertain.
The invasion of the predatory Indian musk shrew is a huge blow to the conservation of the orange-tailed skink as it is suspected of being capable of predating all the skinks from Flat Island. The reptile team responds by translocating 90 skinks to a third site, Gabriel Island, along with another 300 skinks to Gunner's Quoin.
Individual skinks from Gunner's Quoin are flown overseas to establish a captive breeding population at Durrell in Jersey. Durrell's herpetological department breed orange-tailed skinks for the first time 12 months later. Based on survey results it is suspected that the Indian musk shrew has forced the Flat Island population into extinction.
Surveys by the reptile team find healthy breeding skinks in locations far from their release sites and they appear well established on Gunner's Quoin. On Gabriel Island, the team confirms that since the release the skink is surviving in two wild populations.
Despite further intensive searches, skinks are still not found on Flat Island and extinction on their former home is now considered likely. Through the rapid actions of Durrell and its partners, the extinction of the orange-tailed skink has been averted. Further invasions of the Indian musk shrew remains a threat.