Seychelles bird recovers from near-extinction

The Seychelles Magpie Robin was near extinct in 1965, as only 12-15 birds had survived the introduction of new predators to the archipelago. Today, the seldom creature was down-listed from "critically endangered" to "endangered", thanks to bold programmes to reintroduce the bird to three Seychellois islands.

Once found on at least six islands in the Seychelles, the Seychelles Magpie Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) dwindled to just 12–15 birds on Frégate Island by 1965, largely because of predation and competition with invasive species. A total extinction of the endemic bird was just around the corner.

Local and international environmentalist groups however found support from the Seychellois government in introducing a bold recovery programme for the Magpie Robin. The translocation programme was initiated in 1990 and has been managed locally since 1998.

Birds were translocated to the small, predator-free islands Cousin, Cousine and Aride in the Seychellois archipelago. At their new breeding places, the nesting success was boosted by habitat creation, supplementary feeding, nest defence, provision of nest boxes, and reduction of introduced competitor species.

Today, there are between 130 and 140 birds, with small populations on Frégate, Cousin, Cousine and Aride islands. On Aride Island, which in a third recovery attempt received 15 birds as late as 2002, environmentalists in October last year finally could celebrate the first victory of their last translocation effort; the bird colony finally numbered 16. Eleven of the 16 birds had been born on the island.

While the expansion of the Seychelles Magpie Robin population only goes at a slow paste on the archipelago, the immediate danger of extinction however seems to be farther away. "The species is still incredibly rare and is not yet fully out of danger so every single individual counts," the Seychelles government nevertheless acknowledges.

Environmentalists however have gained trust in the successful recovery programmes for the rare bird. BirdLife - which is the Red Listing Authority for birds for the global Red List for all species judged to be threatened with extinction - today moved the Seychelles Magpie Robin from the category 'Critically Endangered' to the category 'Endangered'.

'Critically Endangered' is defined as a species "facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild", while 'Endangered' is a species "facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild". The Seychellois bird therefore is far from secured a safe future yet, according to BirdLife's listing.

In its yearly evaluation report, the environmentalist group found that "overall more species are currently sliding towards oblivion," according to BirdLife's Ed Parnell. The global number of birds considered to be threatened with extinction is now 1,212. Adding the number of near threatened species, this gives a total of exactly 2,000 species in trouble – more than a fifth of the planet's remaining 9,775 species.

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