This month of July has seen another historic event in the conservation of the Seychelles White Eye (SWE). Once thought extinct, the species was rediscovered and given the status of critically endangered by IUCN and Bird Life International. The species once occurred originally on Mahe and Conception Island with populations of around 330 individuals. After the successful reintroductions of the SWE to Fregate (2001- 2003) and North Island (2007) the population gradually increased to about 650 birds. Despite these massive efforts in the past, this species has been down listed to vulnerable and still needs to be actively conserved and protected as the risk of becoming extinct is still a real one.
It was in this same light, that the Island Biodiversity & Conservation centre of the University of Seychelles (IBS-Unisey), developed a conservation proposalwith the goal of establishing a viable population of Seychelles White-eyes on a new island, Grande Soeur mixing individuals from both Frégate Island and North Island populations (both originating from Conception Island) to ensure the long-term survival of the species, which could later colonise naturally Petite Soeur distant of only 700m. This would be done through partnerships with different agencies as well as the proprietor of Grand Soeur Island. Grande Soeur (also known as East Sister) is located approximately 6 kilometers off the northern tip of La Digue. With Petite Soeur (or West Sister), they form the “Sisters Islands”. These two tiny private islands are covered by lush vegetation and surrounded by well-preserved coral reefs.
The exercise itself began on the 16th of August 2018 on Fregate Island where mist nets were set up. The next morning on the 17th 16 birds were caught measured and transferred in a Helibird box (specially designed sound proof box with ventilation for travel by helicopter) in small bird bags. The same exercise was conducted on the 18th where 14 SWE were caught. As much as possible, through the coloured ring combinations on the bird legs, birds of known sex were kept for the transfer so as to keep a viable ratio of males to females. Then the birds were transferred by helicopter (Zilair) and kept in a release cage on Grande Soeur for observation where they were fed and hydrated. Once the IBC team was satisfied with the health and general behaviour of the SWE, they were released on Grande Soeur.
Upon post release monitoring, the IBC team has resighted almost half of the transferred birds on Grande Soeur. This is so because of the at times harsh landscape of the island making access at times very difficult. But indications show that the birds have well settled in different areas and in different groups of the island and behaving normally.For this first exercise a total of 30 SWE were transferred. But another transfer from North Island has been planned during the month of September 2018 where IBC is expecting to transfer about 15-20 more SWE under the same project.
We take this opportunity to thanking all of our partners and organisations involved directly and indirectly in the success of these SWE transfer which will help guarantee this exclusive and extraordinary biome that Seychelles possesses and thriving to conserve not only for its biological value, but also protecting what we have for the next generation to come.
Contribution from the Island Biodiversity & Conservation Centre (IBC-Unisey) of the University of Seychelles.