Rare birds in Mauritius

By Tim Georoff, Associate Veterinarian

Kim and I took the bus to the aviary in the morning to do some more work prepping the crates for the bats. A lot of work still to be done. International Air Travel Association (IATA) regulations for transporting bats are very stringent and specific because fruit bats are one of several species considered potentially injurious to agriculture should they escape en route. Plus we will need to be able to feed the bats during transit where they have to spend a long time in a smaller space to ensure their health and safety on their journey to the U.S.

The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens with the exception of the bats. We didn’t have any time to visit any of the national parks or nature reserves during our stay but we were able to view some of the endangered Mauritius endemics in the aviary.  The aviary houses a pair of Mauritian kestrels, a pink pigeon, and several echo parakeets. All three are considered some of the rarest birds in the world with all being listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Critically Endangered or Endangered and become downlisted (meaning an improved conservation status) by the same organization due to conservation efforts in Mauritius.

The Mauritian kestrel, currently a national conservation symbol for Mauritius, has made significant strides since the 1970’s when only 4 individuals remained due to population pressure from forest degradation and introduction of organophosphate pesticides like DDT. Use of these pesticides caused egg loss similar to what caused population declines of our own national symbol - the bald eagle. Currently less than 2% of native forest remains in Mauritius and much of it provides habitat for these birds. Presently, the kestrel population is at around 400 birds but has suffered declines in some areas according to Vikash so the MWF is planning to resume captive breeding with intent to release and supplement existing wild populations.

The echo or Mauritius parakeet is the only remaining endemic psittacine in Mauritius. Currently parakeet populations have recovered but introduced viral disease is threatening population recovery. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), a circovirus, has been introduced into the echo parakeet population due to cross-species transmission from introduced exotic parrots into Mauritius. Chicks and juvenile birds are most susceptible to fatal disease. All of the parakeets housed at the aviary are positive for PBFD virus and several exhibit several feather abnormalities characteristic the disease. MWF is currently working to minimize spread of disease between birds although viral exposure is widespread in the population. The echo parakeet situation serves as an important example of the destructive impact introduced novel infectious pathogens can have on an ecosystem similar to introduction of West Nile virus in the U.S. or avian malaria in Hawaiian avifauna.

echo parakeet Mauritian Kestrel
Echo Parakeet Mauritius Kestrel

10/02/2013 : Back in the States

It’s 6:30 a.m. New York time and we’re here. Our job now is to get back to the Zoo as quickly as possible.

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10/01/2013 : Heading back

We checked the bats and they all looked alert. They had eaten well during the night – a good sign that they were settled in.

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09/30/2013 : Catching spiders

Tim, an avid kayaker, was determined not to leave Mauritius without kayaking in the Indian Ocean.  So he was up very early on Monday for a sunrise kayak on the bay.  He and his guide had a great hour, kayaking with a group of spinner dolphins! 

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09/29/2013 : Tourist Time

We took a long bus ride to Quatre Bonnes for the weekly market where we had a chance to pick up some souvenirs for family, friends, and coworkers. 

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09/28/2013 : Getting ready for the move

Back in our rooms after dinner, I heard the distinctive sound of fruit bats breeding.  I pinpointed the noise to a nearby mango tree and using a flashlight, I picked up the eyeshine of two Mauritius fruit bats – Pteropus niger – in the tree.

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09/28/2013 : Rare birds in Mauritius

The aviary is only a short ride away from our hotel and houses some of the rarest avian species in the world. The aviary used to be a big center for captive propagation and reintroduction but now currently houses mostly injured or non-releasable specimens, with the exception of the bats. 

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09/27/2013 : Seeing an old friend

On Friday morning, I was finally able to see Mary Jane Raboude. During her ten years as the first REEP, MJ and I had spent a lot of time together. She had visited the US 4 times for continuing education, to spend time at the Zoo, and to present at conferences.  She always stayed at our home so our family had become close to MJ. 

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09/26/2013 : Anse Quitor and Francois Leguat Tortoise Park

This site is more challenging, in some ways, than Grand Montagne.  While it’s generally easier to access – no cliff faces to deal with –because it’s so dry and because wandering domestic animals are more of a problem, reforestation is slower going here.

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09/26/2013 : Touring Rodrigues

Very proud to be a part of an organization that has played such a major role in saving a species.

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09/25/2013 : Off to Rodrigues

Some more background on how the Philly Zoo became a champion for endangered bats half way around the world. 

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09/24/2013 : Some background on Mauritius

The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation located about 1200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, which includes the principal island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (the only home of the Rodrigues fruit bat), and several smaller outlying islands and archipelagos.

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09/24/2013 : Arriving in Mauritius

I'm so excited to return the island where I did my graduate work almost 20 years ago.  It's hard to believe I've been working to conserve Rodrigues fruit bats for that long.

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09/23/2013 : Traveling to Mauritius

Veterinarian Dr. Tim Georoff and I left Monday morning from JFK airport in NYC for our flight to Mauritius by way of Johannesburg, South Africa.  We're travelling all this way for the primary purpose of accompanying 30 Rodrigues fruit bats back to the Zoo from the long-time captive colony of bats at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Center in Mauritius.

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