Nature Seychelles has yet again crossed the conservation rubicon by the introduction of the Seychelles flagship species or “bird of pride”, the Seychelles Magpie-robin to a “new” island.

[ROCHE CAIMAN 19/08/2008] Nature Seychelles has yet again crossed the conservation rubicon by the introduction of the Seychelles flagship species or “bird of pride”, the Seychelles Magpie-robin to a “new” island. Denis Island is now host the newest population of Magpie-robins, currently listed as Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The main goal of the project was to establish an additional population of Seychelles Magpie-robins, (Pi Santez in Creole or to the scientific community Copsychus sechellarum), on another Seychelles island, leading to an increase in the overall number and size of populations. The world population of Seychelles Magpie-robins currently stands at approximately 190 individuals on four islands. It is hoped that with the establishment of an additional population on Denis, the total number of Magpie-robins will increase to at least 250 birds.

Nature Seychelles, which co-ordinates the Seychelles Magpie Robin Recovery Team (SMART), recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Denis Island management. SMART, a multi-stakeholder, decision-making group consisting of managers of private island, NGOs and Government, had as of last year  approved a translocation to Denis island. The MOU and the final go-ahead by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources  paved the way for the translocation of 20 of these highly unique birds.

Denis Island management has been undertaking large scale ecological restoration works with the continuous assistance and guidance of Nature Seychelles for several years. When the habitat was proven to be suitable, Nature Seychelles successfully translocated the Seychelles Fody and the Seychelles Warbler there two years ago. These birds are breeding successfully and have established substantial populations.

“We put in place a highly competent team of professionals from overseas and locally and assembled all materials needed to ensure the Magpie-robin translocation was successful and completed on time so that the birds are not exposed to any kind of stress during this delicate undertaking.. Denis island management provided additional support and funding to ensure the success of the translocation. The managements of Fregate and Cousin islands kindly 'donated' the birds”.  Nature Seychelles’ CEO Nirmal Shah says.

According to historical scientific records, Seychelles Magpie-robins (SMR) were widely distributed on the granitic islands prior to human settlement in the 1770’s. However, by the 1960’s the species was solely confined to Frégate Island and the population fell to between eight and fifteen individuals, recorded in 1965. The population remained small and a recovery programme was initiated by BirdLife International with RSPB funding in 1990. The species was classified as Critically Endangered, the highest possible threat level, on the IUCN Red List on the basis of the small population size and a limited range.

In 2005, because of Nature Seychelles’s success in translocating Magpie-robins to other islands along with the input of stakeholders, the species was reclassified and was downlisted to Endangered on the Red List, a huge success story celebrated worldwide.. However, the species is still found only on four islands with a total population of approximately 190 birds. Experts say that a new breeding population on another island would really secure the species forever.

“The down listing of the Seychelles Magpie-robin from Critically Endangered , which means facing extinction, to Endangered was principally due to the massive conservation efforts we have undertaken over the last few years. We are delighted that the Disney Conservation Foundation, RSPB, Fregate Island Private and Denis island management have now partnered with us on this current programme for translocation so the species can be saved for all mankind.” says Kirstin Henri, Nature Seychelles’ Projects Coordinator

Nature Seychelles received grant funding to undertake the translocation from the environmental division of the reknown entertainment giant Disney Corp. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) helped with securing this grant from Disney. “Our company has a commitment to the environment that dates back to Walt Disney himself,” says Jerry Montgomery, senior vice president of Conservation & Environmental Sustainability for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “Protecting wildlife and wild places through the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund is a key component of our mission.”  Montgomery adds.

“Against a background of declining bird species in most countries this translocation was another great achievement for conservation worldwide. These birds will provide a grand spectacle when they are established on Denis.” Jon Dale, Nature Seychelles’ Translocation Coordinator says.[ENDS]

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