The land birds of French Polynesia are among the most endangered birds in the world. The Fatu Hiva and Tahiti Monarchs, flycatchers about two-thirds the size of a European Blackbird, are at greatest risk, with just 27 and 93 individuals respectively in the wild. The Societe d’Ornithologie de Polynesie-Manu (SOP-Manu) is the premier organisation working to protect the wild birds of Tahiti and their habitats. The two Monarchs are SOP’s highest priorities, with staff dedicated to their protection and recovery. The single greatest threat to these birds, and indeed to wildlife across the Pacific, is introduced pest species – rats, ants, birds, myriad plant species and feral cats. The coronavirus has had a major impact on grant funds that would otherwise support SOP’s pest control programs, increasing risks to the birds.
Implications of coronavirus for wildlife
The coronavirus continues to devastate people and economies around the world. It also has very serious consequences for wildlife in many countries as the understandable measures implemented to control its spread and keep people safe have significantly curtailed actions by wildlife teams to monitor and protect threatened species.
Covid has also significantly affected conservation grant funding worldwide, including for SOP. Major reduction in income has severely hampered pest control programs that are critical for recovering the two Monarchs.
Fatu Hiva and Tahiti Monarchs
The Fatu Hiva (Pomarea whitneyi) and Tahiti (P. nigra) Monarchs are endemic to Fatu Hiva and Tahiti Islands respectively. Both species are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, with the former now at less than 30 birds in one tiny population and the latter in three isolated valleys. Both are heavily impacted by introduced rats, with additional severe pressure from feral cats on Fatu Hiva Island, and Indian Mynahs and Little Fire Ants on Tahiti Island. When SOP started the recovery program for Tahiti Monarchs in 1998, just 12 individuals remained. Dedicated action and a long-term commitment have recovered this little bird back to just over 90 individuals in 2020 – an outstanding achievement, but the fight is far from over.
The success to date with the Tahiti Monarch has delivered important learnings that are now being applied to the monarch on Fatu Hiva Island. This is the most southerly island in the Marquesas Archipelago, being a one hour flight from Papeete, overnight stay on Ua Huku Island, followed by almost 4 hours by boat to Fatu Hiva – a very remote locality. Annual counts in recent years show the wild population stable at 22-28 birds each year – a frighteningly small number, but at least the previous decline has been arrested. But, like the Monarch on Tahiti Island, actions to prevent the bird slipping back into decline and to support population growth are urgent.
Societe d’Ornithologie de Polynesie
SOP is the Polynesian representative of BirdLife International and was established as a non-profit association in July 1990. It operates conservation projects on 10 islands across French Polynesia’s five archipelagos.
Its strategy focuses on protection of both land and seabirds, restoration of key sites for the region’s birds and preventing establishment of introduced species in islands that are free of this threat. The organisation has a small team of dedicated staff and has developed an extensive network of volunteers. The latter are crucial for pest bird control, removal of introduced plants and restoring habitat for the Tahiti Monarch – more than 3,000 native plants in the ground since 2013.
While dealing with the immediate threats posed by invasive introduced species on priority bird species in French Polynesia is the highest priority to prevent their extinction, SOP also takes a strategic approach to preventing pest species establishing elsewhere. Deployment of specially-trained rat control dogs and a network of bait stations on Rimatara and Ua Huka Islands have kept them free of rats, protecting the endemic Kuhl’s Lory, Ultramarine Lorikeet and the Iphis Monarch.
Covid consequences for SOP and French Polynesia Monarchs
The government in French Polynesia initially responded quickly to close the borders to international travel when the significance of COVID 19 became clear. That was followed by internal travel restrictions, which prevented SOP staff travelling to Fatu Hiva Island and volunteers on the Island from undertaking the critical pest control program. It is likely that some birds were killed by cats and rats during this period.
Grant funding has also been hit hard. Securing grants from large funding bodies is always problematic for SOP because French Polynesia is part of France and France is categorised as a ‘high wealth country’ – as such it is not eligible for grants from the IUCN, etc. Smaller donors, such as many overseas zoos and small non-government organisations, have been severely impacted by the coronavirus and unable to allocate funds to SOP.
Please help us make a difference for these little birds in French Polynesia. Every bird saved is a step on the path to their recovery.
How your donation can help:
AUD.900 (USD.690) will cover wages and insurance for the cat control officer on Fatu Hiva Island for one month.
AUD.400 (USD.310) will cover the cost of spraying one Little Fire Ant colony to protect Tahiti Monarchs.
AUD.200 (USD.155) will pay for one month’s work to sterilise domestic cats in two villages closet to the Fatu Hiva Monarch valley.
AUD.600 (USD.460) for one trail camera to remotely monitor Fatu Hiva Monarch fledglings when they leave the nest.
AUD.150 (USD.115) for one month of invasive plant removal at the entry to one of the Tahiti Monarch valleys.
AUD. 700 (USD.) to engage an additional villager for 6 months of expanded rat control around Fatu Hiva Monarch territories.
AUD.250 (USD.190) for pair of replacement binoculars for volunteers monitoring Fatu Hiva Monarchs.
AUD. 200 (USD.) to train and equip a family in Tahiti to catch Indian Mynahs, drawing them out of the Tahiti Monarch valleys and reducing pressure on the Monarchs.
Why French Polynesia Monarchs Need Your Help
With just 27 Fatu Hiva Monarchs and 93 Tahiti Monarchs left in the wild, these are among the most endangered birds in the world. Their recovery is totally dependent on the work of SOP-Manu and its dedicated volunteers.
Any donation, big or small, can and will make a difference and allow SOP-Manu to continue its vital mission to bring these little birds back from the brink of extinction.
The Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Australasian Wildlife Conservation Fund is helping to raise funds to support SOP-Manu’s work in recovering the Fatu Hiva and Tahiti Monarchs in French Polynesia.
For more information visit: https://www.manu.pf/?lang=en
- Gerry Ross
- Paula Watson
- Sophie Anderson
- Lisa Vassos
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