Jan 6

Despite once coming precariously close to extinction, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus seychellensis) is now thriving on five islands in the Seychelles thanks to an intensive conservation and monitoring programme dedicated to this tiny bird’s recovery.

Photo of Seychelles warbler

The Seychelles warbler population crashed to just 26 individuals in the 1960s

Saving a species

In the 1960s, the population of the Seychelles warbler plummeted alarmingly to just 26 individuals, all of which were confined to Cousin Island, a small granitic island in the Indian Ocean. In a bid to save this diminutive warbler, BirdLife International purchased Cousin Island in 1968, turning it from a degraded coconut plantation into the world’s first internationally owned-reserve.

Run by Nature Seychelles, the Cousin Island Special Reserve today holds a healthy population of over 300 warblers. Over the last two decades, additional populations of the warbler have also been established on Cousine, Aride and Denis Islands.

Photo of Seychelles warbler at nest with chick

Seychelles warbler at nest with chick

A fifth population

Late last year, in December 2011, a fifth population of the warbler was established on Frégate Island, a privately-owned luxury resort.

59 warblers were transferred from Cousin Island to Frégate Island as part of a project to start a fifth successful breeding population – a remarkable success for a species that was only recently considered to be one of the rarest birds in the world.

Frégate Island, like Cousin, has been restored over many years, is rat free, and is also free of mynah birds and other invasive species which may compete with and harm native birds.

The warbler translocation project is being led by Nature Seychelles in partnership with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), the Seychelles Warbler Research Group (a collaboration between the Universities of East Anglia and Sheffield in the UK, and the University of Groningen, Netherlands) and Frégate Island Private.

Success story provides hope

Once much more widespread, the decline of the Seychelles warbler was mainly due to extensive habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species such as mynah birds to the Seychelles.

Photo of a common mynah

The common mynah is an invasive species in the Seychelles, threatening native bird species

According to Dr Chris Magin of the RSPB, “The recovery of Seychelles warbler provides hope that the fortunes of threatened species can be turned around. Before the Seychelles warblers were moved to other islands, this species literally had all its eggs in one basket, but now the bird has a much brighter future.

Nirmal Shah, CEO of Nature Seychelles, says, “If the population takes off on Frégate as we expect, it will be the first bird species in the world once classified as Critically Endangered to be removed from Birdlife International’s threatened  birds of the world list because of conservation action.

Read more about the translocation of the Seychelles warbler to Frégate Island.

Find out more about Nature Seychelles.

See more images of the Seychelles warbler on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author