ZSL London Zoo keeper Claire McSweeney gives us a first-hand account of working in the field in Mauritius, helping to boost kestrel populations.
In 1974, the population of Mauritius kestrels was down to four known wild individuals and two in captivity. There were several reasons for such a drastic decline: habitat loss, invasive predators (cats, rats, monkeys) and the negative effects of inadvertent pesticide ingestion (DDT used for mosquito control) being the most influential. A conservation strategy was implemented which included a captive breeding programme, and later, a reintroduction programme and support for released birds such as artificial nest boxes and supplemental feeding. All this hard work allowed the species to recover and by 2000 the kestrel had been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable.
Over the last 4 years ZSL has worked closely with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the National Parks and Conservation Service (Government of Mauritius) and other partners to help monitor and manage the two sub-populations of kestrels now found at the Black River Gorges National Park (BRGNP) on the west coast and the Bambou Mountain range on the east coast. Unfortunately, results from previous and subsequent fieldwork has shown that the population in the BRGNP has been steadily declining and though the Bambou Mountain population has maintained its population, the kestrel is now considered to once again be Endangered. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, with the support of ZSL scientists and keepers, have stepped in to once again aid the kestrel’s recovery. Since 2016 a number of eggs have been collected from wild nests on the East coast, then hatched and hand-reared at the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary (Black River aviaries) before being released into suitable habitat on the south-west coast.
Earlier this year the keepers at ZSL Whipsnade and London Zoo were approached with the amazing opportunity to travel to Mauritius to help with the kestrel programme over the 2018 breeding season. As keepers we work hard to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to aid in the conservation of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife in our zoos but the chance to use our expertise to directly help the recovery of the kestrel is not one to miss. Of course, the fact that this work would be carried out on a tropical island had no bearing on my decision to put my name forward.
At the end of June, myself and Jasmine Sinclair from London Zoo were the lucky ones chosen to head out to Mauritius for six weeks each (with an overlap of two weeks) to cover the period the kestrel eggs and chicks would need to be cared for. Having six years of experience as a bird keeper at Whipsnade I was really looking forward to putting my incubation and hand rearing skills to the test. I landed early in the morning on October 8th and was whisked off to meet the staff at the National Parks and Conservation Service. They introduced their team to me, explained their role in the project and welcomed me to Mauritius. Next, it was off to MWF head office where I met lots of the MWF staff and volunteers before they headed out to their field stations for the week. I don’t think I’ve met that many friendly and enthusiastic people all at once before and I really hoped I could remember some of their names!
By afternoon I had arrived at the aviaries and, after meeting the dedicated team of Mauritian keepers there, I was finally in the kestrel rearing room. With the first egg harvest two days away, I wasted no time in getting stuck in to set up the various bits of equipment needed for incubating, hatching and rearing. By the time I got back to the dedicated MWF house and lay my head down on a pillow, which I managed to scavenge from a cupboard, I was ready for some much needed sleep. There are going to be some exciting weeks ahead.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.