The global population of the pink pigeon has declined dramatically through rampant habitat loss and predation by invasive animal species introduced to Mauritius. Without intervention from Durrell this species is destined for extinction.
By request from the Mauritian Government, Durrell works to establish two captive populations of pink pigeons in both Mauritius and Jersey. The captive pigeons successfully breed a year later, significantly boosting the global population. This is a critical first step in the conservation of this species which has declined to as few as 10 birds in the wild.
Increasing interest in Mauritian endemic species enables Durrell to help form the local conservation initiative, the Mauritian Wildlife Appeal Fund. This later evolves into the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) which is led by Mauritians in partnership with Durrell who work together with the Government to save some of Mauritius' most threatened species.
Release techniques were perfected during a previous trial when 21 pink pigeons were successfully released into the local botanic gardens. Together the two releases have increased the global wild population by 485%. They mark a key milestone in the species' survival and also in Durrell's history as the first release of a captive-bred species back into the wild.
Along with radio-tracking released birds to monitor long-term survival rates, wild birds are also fitted with identification rings to allow researchers to track the progress of individual pigeons. Close monitoring provides vital information on the impact of efforts to support the recovering population such as supplemental feeding and control of predators.
Investigations show that the degradation and loss of pink pigeon habitat has been severe and the risks posed by introduced predators cannot be fully eliminated. Hands-on conservation management through predator control and supplemental feeding will be required in the long-term if the pink pigeon is to survive.
This tragic event reduces the last remaining wild population of pink pigeons at Pigeon Wood to just 8 individuals, highlighting the huge impact of invasive predators on the species. MWF and Durrell staff react immediately by significantly increasing predator control at all sites through trapping. Supplemental feeding continues to support the recovery of the few remaining birds.
MWF and Durrell staff used IUCN Red List criteria to assess the extinction risk of the species which is listed as Critically Endangered. Despite several successful releases and intensive conservation management of the pink pigeon, low numbers and the continuous impact of threats mean it remains one of the most threatened birds in the world.
A major phase of recovery for the species begins when MWF and Durrell release a further 42 captive-bred pigeons at two new sites, including a predator-free island. Ile aux Aigrettes is known to be free from invasive predators and could provide a refuge enabling this population to thrive. Intensive management of other sub-populations continues to support recovery.
The Black River Gorges National Park is established by the Government of Mauritius to protect the area of upland native forest that supports the wild and released populations of the pink pigeon. It covers an area of 67.54 km and is managed by the newly created National Parks and Conservation Service. It is also the only National Park in the country.
For the first time since 1994, the recovery of the pink pigeon seems well established as the global population increases to the highest numbers in the history of the programme. Results of monitoring estimate a total of 330 individuals across sub-populations at 5 sites. This achievement is a result of intensive conservation effort maintained over 15 years.
Extinction risk of the pink pigeon is down-listed on the IUCN Red List in recognition of the increase in sub-populations established through the releases. Increases in population size are the result of successful management through predator control and hands-on supplementary feeding, without which it is likely the species would have gone extinct in the wild.
In total, sub-populations have been successfully established at 6 new sites since releases began in 1987, increasing the species range by 167%. The most recent sub-population is established by translocating wild-bred juveniles from neighbouring areas to the Lower Gorges site within the National Park.
Recent analysis of monitoring data demonstrates that the wild population has reached a 'ceiling' of around 400 birds. Plans for a new sub-population on the south-eastern coast of Mauritius in Ferney are developed and funding is secured.
30 years ago the first captive-bred pink pigeons were released back into Mauritius to begin one of Durrell's longest running species survival programmes. Since this first release, the wild population has increased from 9 to over 400 birds supported by intensive conservation management and one of the most successful captive-breeding programmes in the world.