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Seychelles Parrot: National bird of the Seychelles is endangered

(14.08.2013) Scientists from Göttingen are systematically surveying the population of the Lesser Vasa Parrot for the first time.

Parrots are very charismatic and play an important role in nature conservation. Yet 30 percent of the approximately 330 parrot species are acutely threatened with extinction. Twelve species have been extinct since 1600, most of them on islands.

The fruits of palm trees are an important source of food for the Seychelles parrot

The small island of Praslin, part of the Seychelles, is home to a unique population of the Lesser Vasa Parrot, the so-called Seychelles Parrot. Scientists from the University of Göttingen and the Seychelles Foundation were able to show that only between 500 and 900 of these birds still exist in the wild. The results have been published in the international journal Oryx.

Although the plumage of the Lesser Vasa Parrot is very unspectacular compared to other parrots, its melodious chants are very popular with the residents and visitors of the Seychelles.

They therefore serve as flagship species for biodiversity protection in the endemic palm forest of the Vallée de Mai and the surrounding national park. The scientists have now carried out the first systematic survey of the population across the island.

They found the bird all over the island of Praslin, but mainly in the endemic palm forest in the center of the island. "Although our numbers are higher than expected, there is still cause for concern because of the limited distribution area," says Anna Releaux from the Department of Conservation Biology at the University of Göttingen.

The form of the bird that occurs on Praslin is currently listed as a subspecies of the Lesser Vasa Parrot, which also occurs on Madagascar and the Comoros, but genetic studies in collaboration with scientists in England suggest that the birds that occur on Praslin have their own specific status.

"If the species status of the Seychelles Parrot were indeed confirmed, it should also be possible to obtain international support for the conservation of its single population," said Nancy Bunbury, program coordinator of the Seychelles Foundation.

"Our population figures show that the bird requires a red-list classification as endangered, simply because of the small population size and the restriction to a single island."

“Exact population numbers are essential for nature conservation planning; the design of adequate monitoring programs should be an important part of the academic training of graduates in the fields of nature conservation as well as biodiversity and ecology ”, says associate professor Dr. Matthias Waltert, who teaches wildlife capture at the University of Göttingen.

The Seychelles Foundation is currently continuing the research by collecting data on the bird's breeding and nutritional biology and examining the possibility of reintroduction in other Seychelles islands. In addition, nesting sites are to be provided, food trees planted and public relations work to be strengthened in order to improve the population's chances of survival.

Original publication: Anna Reuleaux et al. (2013): Status, distribution and recommendations for monitoring of the Seychelles black parrot Coracopsis (nigra) barklyi (Oryx). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605312000300

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