Click to read: Durrell instrumental in saving the orange-tailed skink from extinction

Durrell instrumental in saving the orange-tailed skink from extinction

Yesterday Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust received 22 orange-tailed skinks, rescued following the invasion of Flat Island, Mauritius by the predatory Indian musk shrew.

The orange-tailed skink was discovered on Flat Island, the largest of the Mauritian islands in 1995, since then habitat modification and the introduction of non-native predators elsewhere in Mauritius has meant that Flat Island became the last refuge for this Critically Endangered reptile.

In 2007 plans were revealed to develop Flat Island for the enhancement of tourism. Many concerns were raised over this, particularly the risk of introducing invasive shrews and, or wolf snakes, both thought to be responsible for decimating small terrestrial reptile communities in Mauritius.

In February 2008 to mitigate the predicted threat of predator introduction, Durrell’s team, along with staff from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Mauritius National Parks and Conservation Service, translocated 82 orange-tailed skinks to the nature reserve, Gunner’s Quoin.

Fears of development on Flat Island were realised in 2010, when shrews were detected on the island. This was a severe blow to conservation in Mauritius, but the on site teams acted quickly and translocated a further 390 orange-tailed skinks.

On a recent expedition to Flat Island and exactly one year on from the discovery of the shrew, Durrell staff found that despite intensive and lengthy searches of the island using highly sensitive techniques for detecting the secretive orange-tailed skink, none were found.

Commenting on the project Dr Nik Cole of Durrell said “Had the reptile team not reacted to the threat of development and the arrival of the shrew, the orange-tailed skink would now be extinct. However, it may be years before we can confirm that the translocations have been a success. The skinks will be maintained at Durrell until we are certain that the translocated populations have established or we manage to find a way to tackle the shrew problem.”

Discussing the restoration of Mauritius’ endemic reptile communities which is one of Durrell’s core conservation projects he continued “Another vulnerable reptile species lost from the Flat Island has been the Vulnerable endemic lesser night gecko, which is restricted to just a couple of other islands. Fortunately, we have been working with this species both here and at the Herpetological Department at our Jersey Headquarters to improve its conservation status.”

Posted 8 June 2011

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