First ever Mangrove Finch to be hatched in captivity!
28 February 2014 | News story
Another conservation success story from the field! Today, SOS Grantee and IUCN member, Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (CDF) shared exciting news of a world first for the Critically Endangered Mangrove Finch. According to Francesca Cunninghame, on 10th February 2014, the first Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) chick ever to hatch as part of a captive rearing programme was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). The CDRS is the operative arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos.
This was the first success in the Mangrove Finch “head-start” programme, with eleven chicks having since hatched. According to Graciela Montsalve, also working with CDF, this is a great effort which complements previous research and management work on the species which has been carried out since 1997, by the CDF. This programme is being conducted jointly by the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD).
The Mangrove Finch is the bird most threatened by extinction in the Galapagos Islands. Currently only 60 to 80 individuals are left in existence and the Mangrove Finch is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Its entire population is restricted to a tiny range of less than 30 hectares in two patches of mangrove forest on the west coast of Isabela Island. In the past 5 years, individuals from a remnant population on southern Isabela Island have no longer been found.
Since early February, 21 eggs and three newly hatched chicks were collected from wild nests in the mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra, on Isabela. The eggs and chicks were then transported in an incubator, by helicopter, to the newly created incubation and hand-rearing facility at the CDRS. This is an area adapted as a quarantine facility, which aims to minimise the chance of the nestlings being infected by disease. Once out of the shell, the chick rearing process is a very demanding task, since, among other things, they need to be hand-fed fifteen times a day.
Francesca explains: "After three years of planning and despite many challenges, we are thrilled with the achievements in every step of the process: collection of the eggs, incubation and hand rearing in captivity. Each success is a result of great teamwork and represents a milestone for the recovery of the Mangrove Finch wild population. The reintroduction of the youngsters back into the wild will be our next big challenge.”
Among many introduced species, the main threat to the Mangrove Finch is the Philornis downsi fly. This fly lays its eggs in the nests of the finches and subsequently its larvae parasitise nestlings, feeding on their tissue and blood, and causing a high mortality rate. Due to its tiny population, and with very few youngsters that manage to grow into adults, the population is simply disappearing. In addition, because the Mangrove Finch is only found in one small location, the species faces a particular risk from natural disasters such as lava flow, fire, or disease.
The first goal of the ongoing collaboration was to implement a “head-start” programme to help Mangrove Finch chicks through the major threat of Philornis. The goal is to return the young birds back to Playa Tortuga Negra, where they will be cared for in a purpose-built acclimation aviary, before being released back into the mangrove forest and monitored by the field team.