Long-term project to protect endangered birds by starting new colony helps save species
Date: July 18, 2018
Source: San Diego Zoo Global
A long-term plan to preserve the Rimatara lorikeet by restoring an extirpated population of the species on a neighboring island that is free of predatory ship rats is demonstrating the importance of this kind of protective program for the sustainability of endangered bird species. A case study published in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report Global Reintroduction Perspectives: 2018 -- Case Studies from Around the Globe sums up the results of an effort that began in 2000.
"The important thing about any conservation program is the ability to demonstrate that a species can be saved over the long term," said Alan Lieberman, retired director of field conservation programs for the Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global. "It is easy to get excited during the initial steps, but you don't know if you have succeeded until a decade or so later. In this case, we started with 27 birds captured on Rimatara and then translocated to Atiu Island, and we now have a population of well over 300."
The Rimatara lorikeet is considered to be an endangered species by BirdLife International and IUCN. Although originally distributed over the Cook and French Polynesia islands, its numbers were severely reduced and it disappeared in prehistoric times from most islands due to hunting for its bright red feathers.
Blue and ultramarine lories have been extirpated, as ship rats have invaded more islands in French Polynesia. The last natural population of the Rimatara lorikeet could easily be destroyed if ship rats invaded Rimatara, via cargo or a shipwreck. Nearby Atiu had similar habitats to Rimatara and was still free of ship rats, so it was an obvious choice for the establishment of a reserve population.