At the end of April, Cousin Island was privileged to receive Royal Society fellow, House of Lords peer and former Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, Professor Lord John Krebs and his wife Sarah Phibbs.
The celebrated author of several books and hundreds of scientific papers, whose research is in ecology and behavior of birds, was on a maiden visit to Seychelles.
Accompanied by Nature Seychelles’ Chief Executive Dr. Nirmal Shah, Lord Krebbs and his wife joined a group tour guided by Cousin Warden Jason Souyana.
Cousin is home to some of Seychelles finest bird life. Over the last five decades, this former coconut plantation has transformed into an ornithological dream.
Jason took the island’s coastal trail that skirts the forest, giving his visitors the chance to see nesting White-tailed tropicbirds at all stages of growth. These seabirds nest on the ground on this rat-free island.
Above them in trees, Fairy tern chicks perched perilously on branches, waiting to fledge.
As it is Lesser Noddy breeding season, the broad-leaved trees like Pisonia were packed with breeding pairs.
Endemic birds darted through vegetation. The visitors were treated to the Seychelles warbler, Seychelles fody, Seychelles sunbird, and Seychelles magpie robin, which Jason coaxed out of the trees with a whistle.
There were close encounters with other wildlife including abundant Skinks, well-camouflaged Bronze-eyed geckos and Aldabra giant tortoises on a walkabout.
“Thank you so much for a lovely visit and for taking the time to show us the island,” Lord Krebbs said at the end of his tour.
“The highlight of my visit was seeing the Seychelles warbler, Seychelles magpie robin and the Seychelles fody.”
“But the Seychelles warbler was particularly exciting to see as it was an adult feeding a chick.”
Although not as outstanding in appearance as other birds, the warbler is a special bird, Dr. Shah explained.
“In the 1960s this bird had the dubious distinction of being the rarest bird in the world with only 23 individuals on Cousin. In 1968, BirdLife started a campaign to protect the bird, which included purchasing and protection of Cousin Island. Today there are over 3000 birds spread over 5 islands.”
The Seychelles magpie robin had a similar dismal past with less than 19 birds on Fregate Island in 1990, Dr. Shah added. Today, they number over 300 on 5 islands, with Cousin’s own population holding steady at between 40 and 50 birds.
Lord Krebs, who has had a distinguished career as a professor, and Dr. Shah also discussed the Academia to Conservation career gap, which Shah said is being filled by Nature Seychelles’ innovative programme - the Conservation Boot Camp.
Shah said he started the programme to give young graduates, who want to work in conservation but do not understand the real world of conservation, an opportunity to gain hands on knowledge. Participants in this programme live on Cousin in field conditions to prepare them for real life conservation.