One Man’s Quest to Save Nature’s Winged Miracles
If one were to actually try to find paradise, you probably couldn’t locate a better candidate than Mauritius, an island nation that would be completely unfamiliar to most people. And yet, Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean about 500 miles east of Madagascar, was the only home of the famous dodo bird, made famous by the fact that it was too large to fly and therefore escape the clutches of the humans who found it ripe for the taking, and pretty tasty, too. The dodo had never known any predators and was so docile, it walked right up to the Dutch settlers who first came to Mauritius in 1568. Once numbered in the thousands, by 1681, the last dodo was exterminated. This sad event is the origin of the English expression, “dead as a dodo,” which has come to mean anything that is annihilated, either literally or figuratively.
It is a fate that was nearly shared by some of the island’s other winged marvels if not for the single-minded efforts of Dr. Carl Jones, scientific director of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and International Conservation Fellow at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and one of six finalists for the 2012 Indianapolis Prize. Dr. Jones is a worthy candidate for the biennial Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation, for his tireless dedication to preserving the ecology and native species of these small, remote islands – and saving a dozen species from certain extinction.
To his personal credit, Mauritius kestrels, pink pigeons (which really do have pale pink feathers and a neon pick beak), and echo parakeets whose effective populations were down to less than ten, now range in the hundreds due to the work of Carl Jones. He has revitalized dozens of degraded islets, controlled invasive species, and re-introduced endemic plants, reptiles and birds. Jones pioneered techniques of applied population management to reverse the decline of the most endangered species – many of which have been developed using captive common species as models. These techniques include rescuing eggs and young from failing nests for artificial incubation and the use of foster parents to reverse the decline of the species.
Currently, Dr. Jones is working on the restoration of the entire ecosystem for the island group of which Mauritius is a part. By all accounts, the efforts are well placed. With its tropical climate and gentle mountainous terrain created by its volcanic origins, this nation made up of the islands of Mauritius, Rodriques Island and a few others, is a true Eden. Home to some of the world’s rarest plants and animals, Mauritius is home to over a hundred bird species, eight of which are endemic to the island. With nearly a hundred miles of pristine white beaches, a stable and now-independent government, plus a diverse population and culture rooted in French Creole and Colonial English traditions, Mauritius is known to discriminating travelers, if not to the general public.
If it’s up to Carl Jones, those travelers will continue to be able to experience what is truly wondrous about this little known paradise – its native birds and the beautiful habitat that supports them.
The winner of the 2012 Indianapolis Prize will be announced in June.
The Indianapolis Prize is a significant component of the conservation mission of the Indianapolis Zoo.