With an estimated global population of 4,500 individuals, Telfair's skinks are restricted to the highly degraded Round Island. Gerald Durrell collects animals to establish a captive population in Jersey as a priority. Durrell experts are the first to breed this species, providing a safety net whilst the threat of invasive herbivores on Round Island is addressed.
The removal of invasive species is part of a wider programme to restore the habitat on Round Island. Introduced goats and rabbits heavily impact the natural plant communities and ecosystem function of Round Island which is home to seven endemic Mauritian reptiles, including the Telfair's skink.
As part of continuing habitat restoration, the removal of rabbits allows the regeneration of the island's vegetation which is essential to the recovery of the unique reptile communities. With the permission of the Government of Mauritius, Durrell engages New Zealand experts and assists them in the eradication.
Durrell's Simon Tonge assists with collecting the monitoring data which shows a significant increase in the number of skinks in response to the removal of rabbits from Round Island. A management plan for Round Island is also published, recommending populations of threatened reptiles are established on other restored offshore islands to reduce the risk of extinction.
In response to a recommendation by Durrell staff, restoration efforts begin on Ile aux Aigrettes and Gunner's Quoin to eradicate invasive rats, hares and cats. Historically, the Telfair's skinks are known to have existed on these islands. By successfully re-establishing sub-populations at the restored sites, the risk of extinction to the species will be reduced.
Durrell's Dr Nik Cole leads research to improve the status of threatened Mauritian reptiles by restoring offshore island reptile communities. This leads to the formation of a partnership including Durrell, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks & Conservation service. Funding is secured for three years from the Darwin Initiative to initiate restoration activities.
The first translocations are conducted over two years, and a total of 260 Telfair's skinks are successfully relocated from Round Island to the recently restored Ile aux Aigrettes. Durrell staff predict the skinks will predate on the invasive musk shrew and wolf snake which impact smaller reptiles, promoting the recovery of the whole reptile community.
The successful reintroduction of Telfair's skinks to both Gunner's Quoin and Ile aux Aigrettes has increased the species range by 40%. The Round Island boa, another threatened endemic reptile, is a natural predator of the Telfair's skink and plans are made to reintroduce a small population of boas to Gunner's Quoin when the population of skinks is considered robust enough.
An additional 500 skinks are required to increase the level of predation of the invasive musk shrew. Whilst adult skinks successfully predate the shrews, enough shrews persist to predate the juvenile skinks and impact growth of the skink population. Careful monitoring of population trends will be required to ensure enough growth and recovery continues.
Monitoring data collected by the Mauritius Reptile Restoration Programme shows that the population of Telfair's skinks on Round Island has increased from 4,500 to over 44,000 individuals since rabbits were removed from the island 25 years ago. Intense habitat restoration has seen the successful recovery of five endemic species of reptile on the island.
Surveys show the release population of Telfair's skinks has grown to an estimated 5,500 and is now considered robust enough to support a small population of the endangered Round Island boa. A total of 60 boas are translocated to Gunner's Quoin and intense monitoring will be conducted to ensure appropriate management of both populations is delivered.
To enhance recruitment and population growth of the released population of Telfair's skinks on Ile aux Aigrettes in the presence of the invasive musk shrew, further releases will be conducted as part of a headstarting programme. If this management strategy is successful, plans to release skinks onto other islands where shrews are present will be implemented.