Conservation boost for Tahiti Monarch
A conservation programme for one of world's most threatened birds, Tahiti Monarch Pomarea nigra, has received a welcome double boost by the appointment of La Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie "MANU" (BirdLife in French Polynesia) as the Species Guardian and financial support from the BirdLife Preventing Extinction Programme.
Tahiti Monarch was once widespread in Tahiti but predation of the nests by Black Rat Rattus rattus – that not only eat the eggs and young, but kill the females on the nests – meant that by the 1990s Tahiti Monarch was limited to four valleys in Western Tahiti. It is now classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List.
A conservation programme was initiated by MANU. This work focused on monitoring the breeding territories, placing metal bands on nesting trees to prevent rats climbing them and applying rat bait during the breeding season. The early project was a success and the dramatic population collapse was halted. However, with only 23 known birds and a total estimated population of 30-40, the species is far from secure.
Thomas Ghestemme, Species Recovery Coordinator for MANU explained, "Over the last year we have had more staff and resources to enhance our work on these wonderful little birds. We have been able to apply rat bait to the breeding territories throughout the year and start colour banding (ringing) birds so they can be monitored more closely. This extra effort has shown results, with all known pairs producing chicks in the last breeding season".
"We hope that MANU will be able to raise the profile of the monarch and attract a Species Champion to sponsor the work in the longer term" —James Millett, BirdLife International
Still with precariously few birds, the immediate focus of the work will be to secure this population and build up the numbers, survey for new territories in remote areas and safeguard any birds found. Another key area will be to study the basic ecology of the birds and in particular the diet and foraging associations with trees.
Anne Gouni, Director of MANU explains the longer term aims of the recovery plan "to really secure the Tahiti Monarch we will need introduce populations to suitable rat-free islands in the future. This means that we will have to understand the ecological requirements of the species and ensure there will be enough birds to establish new populations without risking the Tahiti population, sadly this is some years away".
The BirdLife Preventing Extinction Programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.
James Millett, Senior Technical Advisor with the BirdLife International Pacific Partnership said "MANU have done a remarkable job in preventing the extinction of Tahiti Monarch, this is very difficult work in inhospitable terrain and I am very pleased that MANU will receive funding from the Preventing Extinctions Programme to boost the recovery project. We hope that by becoming a Species Guardian, MANU will be able to raise the profile of the monarch and attract a Species Champion to sponsor the work in the longer term".
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Credits: MANU, BirdLife