Island that was home to dodo uses life-size dummies to save native seabirds

Decoys and playing recordings of calls will lure boost populations, it’s hopes

The experts hope to draw native red-tailed tropicbirds back to Mauritius
The experts hope to draw native red-tailed tropicbirds back to Mauritius

Conservationists are using life-size dummies of seabirds to lure the real thing back to islands from which they have largely disappeared.

Mauritius, once home to the now-extinct dodo, has suffered a sharp drop in numbers of seabirds, caused by construction, poaching, pollution and the climate crisis.

Species have become rarer on islands named after them, including the Ile aux Aigrettes, or Egret Island, Bird Island, Bird Rock and Flamingo Island.

But a new project involves using decoys to trick real birds flying overhead into thinking there are already bird populations on Egret Island and that it is therefore a safe place on which to land, mate and lay eggs.

The dummies will be accompanied by the sounds of bird calls being played to entice seabirds in.

Experts say the combined effect of decoys and call playbacks has been proven to work in other seabird restoration projects worldwide.

Almost 90 per cent of Mauritian endemic plants are categorised as threatened, while 61 of the country’s indigenous species – including the famous dodo bird – are now extinct.

Workers will also clear invasive plant species before replanting native ones.

The conservationists hope to attract back common noddies, lesser noddies, sooty terns, white-tailed tropicbirds and red-tailed tropicbirds.

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed parts of the project.

And an oil spill last August forced the island to be closed for many months for a clean-up.

“The fact that these islands were all named after seabirds demonstrates how important – or how common –they were at one time,” says Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

“Now some islands are completely devoid of nesting seabirds, while others don’t have any population of note because of past construction, poaching or predators.”

He said the true impact of oil spills are often only felt years later.

“Seabirds help fertilise the land by bringing important marine nutrients. Their presence helps plants and insect populations to grow, helping the whole food chain,” he said.

“A high density of seabirds on islands are also important to coral reefs, which they fertilise, and they contribute to the health of fisheries. Birds are also a major tourist attraction.”

The project, by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, is part of a bigger effort by the United Nations Environment Programme to safeguard the world’s marine habitats and prevent what scientists warn is the looming extinction of up to a million species.

The UN’s decade on ecosystem restoration, a global push to revive natural spaces lost to development, will launch next Saturday with World Environment Day 2021.

“The work this project is doing, like replanting native vegetation and restoring animal habitats, is a perfect example of how countries can bring nature back, and create habitats that not only benefit wildlife but for human populations as well,” said Jared Bosire, Nairobi convention programme manager.

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