IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland, 23 August 2005 - The last few years have seen a welcome turn around in the fortunes of the Seychelles white-eye, thanks to the success of the Seychelles white-eye Recovery Programme, involving Dr Gérard Rocamora, a member of SSC’s Reintroduction Specialist Group, other conservation organisations and local partners.
Reduced to a declining population of only a few dozen known individuals on the island of Mahé as recently as the mid 1990s, the outlook for this small endemic bird seemed bleak. As with so many island endemics, introduced alien species were having a devastating impact and pushing the white-eye towards extinction. Poor breeding success, due mainly to nest predation by the agile tree-climbing black rat, was taking its toll.
The discovery of an additional 200 birds on Conception in 1997 was an unexpected boost, but the long term survival of the species would have remained pessimistic if positive action had not been taken.
Today, as a result of continuing conservation work, the population is now steadily increasing, with at least 400 individuals on three islands. The Seychelles white-eye has been downlisted from “Critically Endangered” to “Endangered” and this change will appear in the 2005 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Recovery Programme was initiated in 1998, by the Seychelles Ministry of Environment supported generously by a number of sponsors and local partners.
Conservation actions have focused on the control of introduced alien species, notably cats and rats, in the birds remaining range, together with an introduction programme to expand the species distribution. This part of the project involves the removal of introduced predators from islands supporting suitable white-eye habitat, and the planting of native berry-bearing shrubs to improve habitat quality. Removing alien species is a delicate operation so small islands were selected as these are the easiest to clear and to maintain rat-free.
Following a decade of committed conservation work by Frégate Island Private and others, Frégate was the first suitable island to be declared free of rats and cats, and in October 2001, 31 birds were released from nearby Conception. They adapted quickly to their new home and raised 14 fledglings in the first year. There are now over 100 individuals on Frégate and population models suggest that the island could support more than 600 birds.
Building on this early success, the Recovery Programme now faces the challenge of maintaining this trend. Cousine Island is now cat/rat/mynah free and a translocation is proposed following the SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group guidelines. It has been submitted to the Ministry and is awaiting approval.
The Ministy's National Species Action Plan calls for three secure islands by 2006 to safeguard the white-eye’s future and to benefit a variety of other Seychelles endemics as well. Predator control is taking place on other islands but will require several more years to complete.
For further information contact:
Andrew McMullin, IUCN/SSC Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: +41 22 999 0153