Island News

Desperately seeking bird guardians

Written By : VASITI RITOVA. Okay, we are now in the “Critically Endangered” stage of bird extinction and conservationists are now seeking bird guardians. This is the highest threat category
16 May 2009 12:00

image Written By : VASITI RITOVA. Okay, we are now in the “Critically Endangered” stage of bird extinction and conservationists are now seeking bird guardians.
This is the highest threat category when it comes to saving birds and we all need to do something.
All bird guardians are required to do is work hard to protect some of Fiji’s and the Pacific’s endangered species.
This comes as reports show that three more Pacific Island birds are threatened with extinction.
The Marquesas Kingfisher, Nightingale Reed-Warbler and the Crow Honeyeater have all become listed as “Critically Endangered”, the highest threat category.
According to BirdLife International and its partner, IUCN (International Conservation Union), these three birds have been listed in the 2009 Red List of threatened birds in the world.
“This is an indication of the grave environmental threats facing Pacific Islands,” said Senior Technical Advisor to BirdLife International’s Pacific Division, James Millett.
“For instance the Marquesas Kingfisher in French Polynesia is facing extinction because of the introduction of a predator from North America, the Great Horned Owl that is now consuming much of the wildlife on the island and that includes the Kingfisher.”
“As so often happens, the original intention of introducing a predator to control a targeted animal gets out of control.
“It is not only the Great Horned Owl that is endangering bird species in the Pacific, but rats, mongooses and the Brown Tree Snake as well”.
“It is the Brown Tree Snake that was accidentally introduced into Saipan, probably in cargo, that threatens the Nightingale Reed-Warbler with extinction,” he said. “The snake is a voracious predator that eats bird eggs and chicks.”
Mr. Millett said that there are still mysteries surrounding the threats to some bird species, “and that is the case with the Crow Honeyeater in New Caledonia”.
“Most of the Crow Honeyeaters have disappeared from the forests and survive in one or two areas on the main island of Grand Terre. This is a real ecological puzzle that obviously must be solved quickly.”
In addition to predators the other overwhelming threat to birds in the region is the destruction of their habitat through deforestation.
Mr. Millett said that conservation efforts could make a difference.
“We are working with our regional partners, and that includes landowners, to implement programmes to protect endangered species through the protection of the forests and the control of predators, and we have met with some success.”
“Of great importance is the Species Guardian Initiative launched by BirdLife where a local organisation becomes guardian of a threatened bird”.
So far, two organisations have signed up to become Guardians for three of the Pacific’s rarest birds: the Fiji Petrel, Tahiti Monarch and Polynesian Ground Dove.
Mr. Millett said that efforts are now underway to find Species Guardians to help protect the three new critically endangered species from extinction.
The European Commission Review Team awarded Birdlife Pacific its ‘highest marks’ for conservation efforts early this year, to protect native forests through the identification and subsequent promotion of IBA, home to many of the region’s threatened and rare birdlife.
“IBAs are internationally recognised as key sites for conservation,” said Don Stewart, Birdlife International Pacific Regional Director.
“They have proved to be a particularly effective way of identifying conservation priorities. They hold either significant numbers of one or more globally threatened, or restricted-range, or migratory, or congregatory species.”
The EC assessment of the Birdlife project was part of a wider review of projects implemented by a number of other agencies in the region. Birdlife’s IBA project located and defined areas in the region where biodiversity conservation was globally important. It took over four years to complete the project.
Mr. Stewart said that the objective of the project was to identify sites of global biodiversity importance in the Pacific and encourage their conservation, adding that Birdlife and its Partners had researched and identified IBAs through field work in Fiji, Palau, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and had compiled IBA inventories for an additional thirteen countries and territories in the region.
The EC assessment focused on each project’s relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability. Birdlife received the ‘highest marks’ in all of these assessed categories – the best results in the region.
Mr. Stewart praised Birdlife’s Partners responsible for the work on the project in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Palau and the staff of the Pacific Partnership Secretariat in Fiji.
“The challenge is now to work closely with governments and local communities to ensure that the IBAs we have identified continue to be sustainable and to encourage similar efforts in the region, using the IBA approach.”
And the next time you stand in silence in the forest and listen to a resonant carol “Eeekou-ing!” out of the trees, it is the remarkable call of Fiji birds, here to stay and be part of our environment.

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