Mauritius kestrel recovery program

The Mauritius kestrel was once the rarest bird in the world; with just 4 known individuals in the wild and two in captivity in 1974. This was the result of extensive habitat loss following the human colonisation of Mauritius; the introduction of non-native predators; and the widespread use of insecticides, such as DDT for the control of malarial mosquitos and Dieldrin for controlling pests in agricultural systems. Following an intensive recovery programme the kestrel had recovered to ~350 individuals by 2000 split between two populations; the Black River Gorges National Park (BRGNP) on the West coast and the Bambous Mountain range on the East coast. The recovery programme was based around the management of the remnant wild population, coupled with captive breeding, population supplementation and reintroduction.

Adult Mauritius kestrel perch on a branch
An adult Mauritius kestrel

However, following the cessation of the intensive management programme in 1997 these two kestrel populations have exhibited mixed fortunes. While the kestrel population in the BRGNP has declined steadily since 2006 (currently <80 individuals), the population in the Bambous Mountains has increased rapidly, following its reintroduction in 1987, and now numbers >160 kestrels.

Find out more: Mauritius kestrel recovery programme

 

Why we are there

ZSL’s Institute of Zoology is closely involved in the Mauritius kestrel project and, along with our conservation partners, provides the scientific evidence underpinning the species recovery programme. The recovery programme is implemented by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the National parks and Conservation Service (Government of Mauritius), with support from the Peregrine Fund (PF) and the Durrell Wildlife & Conservation Trust (DWCT). 

Over the last 20 years we have been closely involved with the monitoring and management of the Bambous Mountain’s kestrel population. This has allowed us to develop an in-depth programme of research to explore how this reintroduced population has responded to; conservation management actions, current environmental conditions (e.g. habitat and rainfall) and how it might be affected by a changing climate in the long-term. Our scientific approach is now being applied to the declining BRGNP kestrel population to determine the drivers of this decline and identify suitable, remedial management actions. 

Kestrel chicks on a blue towel
A brood of wild-bred kestrel chicks, each with a unique set of leg rings that allow them to be identified throughout their lifetime

The scientific evidence from this research not only guides the kestrel recovery programme, but also provides a globally relevant insight into how small populations of highly threatened species function in the face of a changing environmental conditions and the role conservation actions can play in mitigating these.

Impact

  • A viable kestrel population in the Bambous Mountains.
  • An annual programme of minimal monitoring and management.
  • Suitably skilled field teams to conduct the monitoring and management programme.
  • One of the longest running raptor population studies in the world.
  • A tool for mapping kestrel habitat to identify suitable areas for reintroduction.
  • Reintroductions into unoccupied areas of suitable habitat in SW Mauritius.
  • 8 PhD studentships and 4 post-doctoral posts. 

Project information

Key Species

Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus)

The Mauritius kestrel is a small falcon endemic to the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius and is currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

People Involved

Dr Malcolm Nicoll 
Prof Ken Norris
Joe Taylor

Partners & Sponsors

Partners: Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, National parks and Conservation Service (Government of Mauritius), Durrell Wildlife & Conservation Trust, The Peregrine Fund, CNRS (France), Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (France), University of Helsinki, University of Leeds and University of Reading.

Sponsors: BBSRC, Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Awards, Leverhulme Trust, Marie Curie Fellowship scheme, NERC, Scenario NERC DTP.