28 Dec 2015

The `back-story’ to saving the Tahiti and Fatu Hiva Monarchs of French Polynesia

Locals out to set traps to protect Fatu Hive Monarchs. Photo by C. Blanvillainsop
By Mike Britton

The Tahiti and Fatu Hiva Monarchs are two of the world’s most endangered birds. They each take their name from the island where they are found. The numbers of Tahiti Monarch have just climbed over 50 birds but the Fatu Hiva Monarch is still critical with only 5 breeding pairs.  Leading the rescue has been BirdLife French Polynesian Partner, SOP Manu.  But although Manu and its staff and volunteers are obvious heroes of this story their efforts would be futile without the support of the local communities and landowners.  The habitat of both birds is owned by hundreds of local land owners from different families.  So saving two iconic birds is much more than just killing the predators and forest restoration.  Our heroes have a much bigger job to do.

As with most BirdLife conservation projects, site support groups are really important but in this case their members are the landowners and the local community.  SOP Manu is working with them to declare `community-based’ protected areas over the habitats of the birds.  Having the communities restore the forests by planting and removing invasive plants for which running (currently) 6 plant nurseries with the local schools and landowners is essential.  This involves all ages and is a key to making everyone in those communities feel they are part of saving their unique birds. Training local people to monitir the birds and their forest habitat helps make everyone a conservationsit.   And finally our heroes need to help improve the livelihoods of the community and reduce poverty.  The plant nurseries are a part of that as are setting up beekeeping projects and the development of eco-tourism.  

The tree nurseries are something positive the school children can do and creates the chance of telling the stories of the birds and of nature.  It lets them create their own agriculture production and the adults are getting into the game too.  Much of the production will be bought by the project to be used in the restoration work.  Beekeeping on Fatu Hiva has grown from 58 hives at the start of the project up to 238 at the end of 2015.  This generates at least US$28,000 for the local economy, a big boost for this small community. 

Ecotourism is slow to develop but 94 tourist have visited the Tahiti Monarchs and 44 to see Fatu Hiva providing another US$4,000, again a welcome support.  The interest of locals in helping with the project shows how important it is to them.

These programmes are getting recognition.   In 2013 the Tahiti Monarch program was given the ‘Trophée des Associations’ Award by EDF (Electricité de France) as the best green project program involving children.  And now both the local government (DIREN) and the French Government are also giving more support.

But it is a real challenge for our heroes from SOP Manu and the local schools and villagers that support them. We know what do to stop both these iconic birds from sinking into extinction - given support and funding.  This is the `coal face’ of species conservation where our local heroes every day work to give them a future and not just be another footnote of beautiful birds we have lost.

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