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Africa
5 Sep 2017

Reintroducing the pink pigeon and echo parakeet in Mauritius

Pink Pigeon © Thomas Berg/Flickr
Pink Pigeon © Thomas Berg/Flickr
By Jean Hugues Gardenne and Obaka Torto

Re-introducing birds to suitable habitats where species have gone extinct is often a very important and sometimes a last resort to sustain the survival of some threatened Mauritian bird species. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the BirdLife International Partner in Mauritius, has a long and successful track record of exploiting bird translocation opportunities at any given time.

In recent years, MWF has worked with other partners in the country like the National Parks and Conservation Service of the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security, the CIEL Group, the UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), HSBC, Chester Zoo (UK),and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to translocate several Mauritian birds, including the Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Cuckoo Shrike and Paradise Flycatcher from the Black River Gorges National Park in the south west to the east of the island, in Ferney Valley (Bambous Mountains). This strategy has helped to create new subpopulations and increased the total population of some bird species, as it contributes to their distribution, saves them from extinction and loss of genetic diversity.

Echo Parakeet © MWF

Since the 1980s, MWF have been translocating birds via captive releases with the help of many other organisations, however in the last couple of years MWF has worked tirelessly to increase the population of two rare species of birds found in the island nation and prevent them from extinction. The two species are the Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) and the Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) are considered by BirdLife/IUCN as ‘endangered’. Pink Pigeons are a distinctive species of birds with pale pink body, brown wings and a broad rusty-brown tail. They are known to form long-term pairs and are capable of breeding at any time of the year. These beautiful birds that feed on flowers, leaves and fruits of native and exotic trees are endemic to Mauritius. Mauritius has been ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having the third most endangered flora in the world – and this poses a major threat to the already declining birds that largely depend on plants for survival.  Just like the Pink Pigeon, the Echo Parakeet is very rare bird endemic to Mauritius. It is the only surviving parrot of the Mascarene Islands as all others have become extinct.

In order to prevent the Pink Pigeon and Echo Parakeet from declining, MWF decided to translocate these birds to Ferney, on the Bambous Mountains. The translocation of the Echo Parakeet started in February 2015 and the Pink Pigeon in December 2016. By July 2017, 73 Echo Parakeets and 30 Pink Pigeons have been released. The birds are supported by close monitoring since all individuals are identifiable from colour and ID rings, supplementary feeding, predator control, disease control and habitat restoration.

Pink Pigeon © MWF

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MWF was confident that the birds would breed in future. However, it was amazing when a young un-ringed Echo Parakeet turned up at the release aviaries in the Ferney Valley in March 2017. Two months later in June 2017, an un-ringed young Pink Pigeon was sighted with his parents on the same valley. This is the first time that the two birds have bred in the Bambous Mountains in over a century. The confirmed breeding of birds is a yardstick of success and shows that the area is suitable for these birds and is favourably managed. With these young birds of the two species being seen in Ferney Valley, it is obvious that the translocations are a success and hopes are high that many more shall be sighted in the near future.