At present White-eyes are found only on Mahé, Conception and Frégate, although the Mahé and Conception White-eyes are under threat from rats and the population on Frégate is still growing after being translocated there in 2001 and 2003. As part of the initiative to safeguard the species 20 White-eyes are being moved to the protected resort island Cousine, where they will be safe from the threat of predation by rats or habitat destruction by people.
A national project run by the Ministry of Environment, the White-eye initiative has now been given additional support from the joint Nature Seychelles/Cousine Island Ltd. GEF project for private and NGO managed high biodiversity islands in partnership with Cousine Island Ltd. The GEF project has supported technical assistance for the planning of the translocation and for the care of the birds.
Ten birds from Conception have already been released on Cousine and a further five are expected to be released on Monday. In order to ensure the genetic diversity of the new population on Cousine, five White-eyes from Mahé will be released later this month.
“The birds are doing fine, they are feeding and interacting well with other birds, especially the sunbirds,” said Jock Henwood of Cousine Island.
Since the release of the White-eyes on Cousine, the island’s ecology staff, with assistance from the Durrell WIldlife Conservation Trust, have been monitoring their progress and made daily sightings of the birds, all of which appear to be doing well.
Translocation of White-eyes to other islands was agreed upon in the 2001 National Species Action Plan (NSAP), which called for secure populations to be on at least three islands by 2006.
The decision to move the birds was also spurred by the fact that Conception appears to be supporting as many White-eyes as it can and for the total population to grow the birds needed more space. At the same time as the Cousine translocation is taking place another 25 birds are being moved to North Island, with the assistance of the Island Conservation Society.
After being carefully trapped, ringed and given a medical check up, the Conception White-eyes were helicoptered to Cousine and released.
Although there are no records of White-eyes having colonised new islands without human assistance there are hopes that, as the Cousine population grows, some White-eyes might make the short trip to neighbouring islands.
Organisers hope that the initiative will help the White-eye population grow and eventually be donwgraded from its current IUCN endangered status.