Endangered Species Recovery from Jersey to Mauritius
Embarking on a career in wildlife conservation is one of the most rewarding decisions I have made. Making a mid-career switch from the petroleum industry a few years ago meant that I had to get necessary qualifications, experience, and take a huge leap of faith. I chanced upon the DESMAN (Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate) course offered by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust when I was considering my options, and in 2019, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of its participants. The DESMAN course coincided with a significant juncture in my career.
DESMANs of 2019 with Dr. Tim Wright, Durrell’s Conservation Training Manager, and Dr. Izabela Barata, the DESMAN 2019 Course Coordinator
Three months of intensive training in Jersey with 14 other experienced conservationists from various backgrounds helped broaden my understanding of the latest conservation practices, project successes (and failures) through case studies, sub-disciplines within conservation, and resources for applied conservation. Realising that I was lacking field experience and inspired by my classmates, I kept a lookout for opportunities to fill this gap. I applied for an internship at the Islands Restoration Programme, a collaboration between the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Durrell for rewilding islands and boosting endemic reptile populations in Mauritius. In August 2019, I packed my bags once again and left Sri Lanka to start an internship with MWF as a Conservation Biologist.
I received my training under the mentorship of Dr. Nik Cole, Durrell’s Islands Restoration Manager, Martine Goder, MWF’s Islands Restoration Senior Coordinator, and Rouben Mootoocurpen, MWF’s Islands Restoration Coordinator. Soon I was monitoring the Gunther’s gecko population and their egg sites during the breeding season, rearing juvenile Telfair's skinks and juvenile Aldabra giant tortoises in captivity, and applying biosecurity measures on the offshore islet of Ile aux Aigrettes. Gunther’s geckos and Telfair's skinks, which are both endemic and threatened species, were originally translocated from Round Island, a closed island nature reserve of 219 hectares located 22.5 km from mainland Mauritius. Aldabra giant tortoises, originally from the Seychelles, were introduced as an ecological replacement for two species of extinct Mauritius giant tortoises. Occasionally, I also interacted with guests and tourists on reptile conservation awareness.
Ile aux Aigrettes is a 27-hectare offshore islet
Charming sights of Ile aux Aigrettes, which holds the last piece of dry coastal forest in Mauritius and an endemic Mauritius day gecko (Phelsuma ornata)
An adult Gunther's gecko (Phelsuma guentherii) from Ile aux Aigrettes (left) and a juvenile Telfair's skink (Leiolopisma telfairii) from Round Island (right)
Protecting endemic flora and fauna from invasive species is one of the biggest challenges faced by species recovery projects. Today, only about 1.3% percent of non-degraded forests remain in Mauritius. The degraded forests are overwhelmed by several types of invasive exotic plants. Similarly, certain exotic animals became invasive in nature, resulting in extinctions and near-extinctions of native and endemic species. Conservation managers today are tasked with the unpleasant but crucial job of cleaning up the environment to protect native species and their natural ecosystems. Admittedly, controlling invasive predators through trapping efforts was my least favourite part of the job. However, on this extreme frontier of recovering threatened species from the point of no-return, the stakes are high and lapses in biosecurity can undo years of conservation efforts.
Tailless tenrecs originating from Madagascar (left) and Asian musk shrews from South Asia (right) can have devastating effects on endemic reptiles on Ile aux Aigrettes
Monitoring reptiles and their breeding sites through various surveys, rearing reptiles in captivity for reintroduction to the wild, applying biosecurity measures, ringing passerines, fixing geo-locators on seabirds, and habitat restoration are some of the skills I gained. Getting up close with many unique species such as Round Island boas, Bojer’s skinks, pink pigeons, Mauritius fodies, Mauritius olive white-eyes, and Round Island petrels was an incredible experience. So was the opportunity to participate in conservation efforts on another offshore islet called Ile de la Passe and Round Island, a place described as having more threatened species per unit area than any other land area in the world. Witnessing how fundraising efforts in places like Jersey translated from generosity to groundwork in places like Mauritius left me with a sense of appreciation for all stakeholders in conservation.
Round Island, a place of conservation legends and exactly as described by Gerald Durrell in his book 'Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons' and a Durrell’s night gecko (Nactus durrellorum) spotted during a nocturnal survey
No account of an experience is complete without the people who made it possible. In Mauritius, I found not only unparalleled beauty of surrounding landscapes and a vibrant culture, but also warm-hearted and generous people. From inspiring mentors, supportive staff, interns and friends, I learnt much about conservation, teamwork and perseverance.
Durrell's Army of DESMANs! I met past DESMANs, my two Mauritian DESMAN 2019 classmates Erwin Amavassee and Roberto Cesar and worked with Canada's 30th New Noah/DESMAN 2020 participant Eric Jolin
The end of my internship in Mauritius, coupled with the DESMAN experience, marked the beginning of a full-time career in wildlife conservation. Besides knowledge and hands-on skills in endangered species recovery, experiences in Jersey and Mauritius boosted my confidence and gave me a much clearer sense of career direction. Surely, there will be ups and downs along the way and much more to learn on this journey, but it helps in knowing that there is a network of conservationists and organisations I can look up and a pool of resources to tap into.
When I took my final field walk at Ile aux Aigrettes in December 2019, I was overjoyed to notice that one of the first Gunther's gecko eggs of the 2019/2020 breeding season, which I was monitoring for three months, had successfully hatched. About a month later, I received an endearing image of a juvenile Gunther's gecko from the MWF Reptile Conservation Biologist at Ile aux Aigrettes. This sighting is perhaps a sign of hope, the kind that we must hold on to and remember that the conservation work we contribute to, however small, does add up and does matter.
This juvenile gives much hope for the future of its species.
Image credits: Markus Roesch
Posted 29 April 2020