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Endemic species: Drastic decline of Seychelles white-eye bird on Mahe Island

Victoria, Seychelles | May 9, 2023, Tuesday @ 08:50 in Environment » SPECIES | By: Sharon Ernesta | Views: 10105
Endemic species: Drastic decline of Seychelles white-eye bird on Mahe Island

The Seychelles white-eye is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. (Island Conservation Society) 

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(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles' Ministry for Environment is in the process of reviewing all its action plans to better conserve and protect endangered species, especially those under threat of extinction, such is the case of the Seychelles white-eye bird.

The principal secretary for environment, Denis Matatiken, told SNA that the ministry has started to engage with local stakeholders for the protection of this endemic species as well as other endangered species, following reports regarding an alarming decline in the population of the white-eye bird on the main island of Mahe.

A small grey bird with a narrow white ring around each eye, the white-eye was previously classified as critically endangered on the IUCN red list, and successful conservation work allowed the bird to be down-listed to vulnerable status. The species can currently be found on four of the 115 islands of the Seychelles archipelago; Mahe, Fregate, North Island and Grande Soeur.

"The ministry is aware of this situation and believes that conservation is key especially where our endemic species are concerned. It considers taking appropriate actions when needed," said Matatiken.

He added that the government intends to review all the species action plans, including the one for the Seychelles white-eye, which was developed from 2009-2013.

"It is important to establish what has been done, what is known and what actions need to be undertaken. This is important given that a lot of efforts and resources were put in the protection and conservation of such a species," he said.

SNA was alerted to the crucial state of the bird's population on Mahe by the local conservationist turned tour guide, Perley Constance.

Constance has over 30 years of experience in conservation and research on bird and plant species and has worked as a conservation officer with the Ministry for Environment. Besides his tour guide business, Constance also works as a consultant. Bird watching is one activity that he offers visitors to the islands.

"It was during one of my latest tours, when I took clients to see the zwazo linet [white-eye in Seychellois Creole], something that I always include in my tours. I also bring visitors to see the scops owl. This was last week and I got a shock. At La Misere there was only a pair of the species. Normally there were a few of these birds at this location," explained Constance.

Apart from La Misere, according to Constance, these species can be sighted on Mahe at Cascade, Sans Soucis, Grand Anse Mahe and Barbarons – though this site has not been accessible recently since the area was purchased by private owners.

Constance has expressed his fears about the current status of the white-eye, as he feels the relevant authorities should change their approach where conservation is concerned and emphasis should be put on field trips to better assess the status of endangered species.

"If something is not done now, it is with great sadness that we would lose the population on Mahe, just like we have lost the mother population on Conception Island," added Constance.

Conception Island is a small island approximately 2 km west of the main island of Mahe. The island is privately owned and is uninhabited.  Up to 2016, the island had a healthy population of over 300 white eye birds.

Rocamora and his team have been studying the Seychelles white-eye since 1995 when he arrived in Seychelles. (Gérard Rocamora) Photo License: All Rights Reserved 

This was a result of successful work which started in the 1990s by a team of local conservationists headed by Dr Gerard Rocamora, a conservation biologist, and expert in ornithology, island conservation and invasive species management. Constance worked with Rocamora on the project.

The successful management of this population was done prior to the island being sold off to a private businessman who has not developed the island since. Unfortunately, over a period of only three years, the whole population of birds was eaten by rats.

In a past interview with SNA, Rocamora shared the latest development with regards to the threatened species, and where a project was being implemented to relocate species of white-eye on Mahe to other islands.

"The aim right now is to move some of the few birds left on Mahe to another island to ensure that the precious genes of the Mahe bird population, different from those of the birds present on the other islands, can be passed on and do not vanish forever," said Rocamora in November 2021.

He explained that a morphology and genetics study of the birds on Mahe and Conception showed that those on the main island were slightly larger, however, this did not mean that the two populations were different.

Meanwhile, Constance is adamant that all the work done in the 1990s relating to conservation should not be in vain and is calling for an urgent partnership at the national level to reinstate the population of birds on Mahe before it is too late.  

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