The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation: How Conservation Continues During a Crisis
Anne-Gaëlle Carré works as the Assistant Coordinator on the pink pigeon project with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. The species she works with, and many others that the foundation supports, is dependent upon intensive conservation efforts for its survival. To put it bluntly, without constant input from Anne-Gaëlle and her team, the pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) would likely become extinct.
In this interview, I spoke to Anne-Gaëlle about her journey to becoming such an integral part of the conservation for an entire species, and how she and her team are continuing their vital work in the face of a national lockdown in Mauritius.
Hi Anne-Gaëlle, could you start by telling me a bit about what your job involves and why what you do is so essential?
Yes, so I manage the pink pigeon project, and I am responsible for training staff and making sure that all data and reporting are correct, and submitted on time. On top of this, day-to-day I manage and monitor one of the largest pink pigeon subpopulations. Management involves predator control to protect the pigeons, and the provision of supplementary food to make up for natural food shortages. We monitor survival and population size by identifying all pink pigeons seen by their unique colour rings, and breeding productivity by locating nests and breeding pairs. We also monitor the pigeons’ favourite plant species to see how they change over time, so that we can then see how this might impact the pigeons.
And what were your reasons for pursuing a career in conservation?
Well, I grew up around zoos because both of my parents worked in one, and so originally I wanted to become a zoologist because I knew I wanted to work with animals. However, growing up in Mauritius, I thought that the options open to me were limited. When I heard about the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, I realised I wanted to work in conservation because now I get to help animals without keeping them in captivity!
Sounds like you found the perfect role! Without your work, the pink pigeon would be vulnerable to extinction – how are you carrying on during the lockdown in Mauritius?
It has been difficult but we have managed to continue doing essential work from home. At the moment, Mauritius has a strict national lockdown in place. Essential services are allowed to function if they have a special permit from the Government. We applied for the permit as soon as the lockdown was announced, and were granted permission on the 6th of April. This unfortunately meant that we were unable to access field stations between 21st March and 6th April.
Before we were forced to evacuate our field stations, we filled up our supplementary feeders to their maximum capacity and did all we could to make sure the birds would not be impacted. We made the most of the lockdown by catching up on data entry and report writing, this is important as it helps with the overall monitoring of the population and informs any changes we make to our work. Right now, we are able to access field stations twice a week to provide food, clean and disinfect feeders, and identify birds.
We have one field station that has been manned throughout the lockdown as it is located on a small island, named Ile aux Aigrettes, just off the coast of mainland Mauritius. A very dedicated team have been isolated there since lockdown was announced.
Great, and how are your staff feeling during this time? How are you keeping them motivated?
I think the staff are feeling motivated because they understand the importance of our data entry and report writing work. I have also been allocating them tasks to do that isn’t just data to break up their work, such as camera trap analysis. We are holding regular Skype meetings, but this isn’t exactly ideal! I have also made sure that the expatriate volunteers are kept up-to-date with current events and regulations surrounding the lockdown as many of them do not speak the local language. Of course, now that the field stations can be visited this also breaks up the work.
Ok, and finally, why was the decision made to keep that one field station open throughout lockdown? What have they been doing there?
The decision to continuing work on Ile aux Aigrettes was taken because the species they work with are particularly dependent on our support to survive, and social distancing is easy on an island. The island is home to large populations of the Mauritius fody and the Mauritius olive white-eye – both species rely on supplementary feeding. Also, all species on the island rely on workers to provide fresh water, as there are no natural sources on the island. We are all very grateful to the team currently isolating there, and they are doing a fantastic job.
Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me Anne-Gaëlle, it sounds as though you and your team are dealing with the crisis really well. I hope you can continue to minimise the effects of the lockdown on your work, and that things return to normal as soon as possible.
For more information on the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the pink pigeon project, including current volunteering opportunities, please visit their website at: www.mauritian-wildlife.org or visit their Facebook page.