Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Earth Today | Dominica still under fire over decision to relocate birds

Published:Thursday | April 12, 2018 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor/ Contributing editor
Rescued and rehabilitated Imperial Parrot (Sisserou) on the right; 18-year-old Sisserou female on the left. Also a rescue (having fallen from the nest), this female successfully reproduced in captivity in 2010.

DOMINICA CONTINUES to take heat for its decision to relocate two of its birds overseas, following last year's hurricane events.

Conservation biologist and director of research at the Windsor Research Centre, Dr Susan Koenig, said it was not clear to her whether a captive-breeding programme had been necessary for their survival.

"But if the situation is so dire that this is required, then it should be done in situ, on-island, no exceptions. At an absolute minimum, a proper captive-breeding programme would need to be undertaken so as to ensure correct isolation of both birds and staff to prevent the introduction of disease-causing pathogens or parasites into the wild population,she told The Gleaner.

"The best advice I've ever received from an expert parrot veterinarian is 'never mix species from different continents if you want to maintain healthy birds'," she added.

Dominica reportedly exported two Sisserous and 10 Jacos to Germany last month for captive breeding at the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots' facilities, following the hurricanes to affect the Caribbean last year.

"There is no forest cover for the birds at present. We could not, in all moral and ethical judgement, allow the birds to remain in that state, hoping that they will survive. We have an obligation to mankind to protect the species that we have been given dominion over and make the best decisions that succeeding generations can benefit from them," Dominica News Online quoted the island's permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Reginald Thomas, as saying, in justifying the decision.

"We are at the point of extinction of our Mountain Chicken with no other population anywhere for repopulation. We were forced to change our National Dish to accommodate the decline in the species, and if they really go out completely, then we may have to consider removing it from the coat of arms. This is what we are faced with, with the national bird if it goes into extinction," he added.




However, according to Koenig, there are some important lessons to learn from incidents of disease such as proventricular dilatation disease (PDD), which affected birds between 2003 and 2004.

"At the time the first birds were dying from the highly contagious and lethal PDD, the veterinary and pathology communities didn't know what was causing the disease and there was no diagnostic test to confirm whether a bird had it except through an autopsy after it died. The situation is improving, we now know the causal agent. But would anyone want to risk importing a potential asymptomatic carrier of PDD (or some as-yet-unknown disease) into Dominica? I would never take that risk for Jamaica and our two endemic Amazon parrot species," she said.

At the same time Koenig said the Puerto Rican Parrot recovery programme "gives us a much better example for safe and appropriate in situ captive breeding for conservation".

"All breeding is done on-island in isolated aviaries for Puerto Rican Parrots. Further, a conscious decision was made to have two aviaries at different locations specifically to address the risk of hurricanes. This was also the reason for establishing a second wild population in the central-western karst limestone region of Rio Abajo," she said.

"The result: Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the eastern El Yunque wild population but the aviary, which was built to withstand hurricanes, held up well, and the second wild population in Rio Abajo survived and is recovering well," Koenig added.