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Not the Way of the Dodo

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Flag Expedition #8: Not the Way of the Dodo
Endangered Species of Mauritius

Quick Facts

Artist: 
Ria Winters
Purpose: 
Ria Winters visited Mauritius to study, render and support conservation of it’s endangered species with special focus on its birds. This is the eighth expedition fellowship under the AFC Flag Program.
Time/Location: 
May, 2009, Mauritius
Departure Date: 
8 years 30 weeks ago

During May 2009, Ria Winters travelled to Mauritius to study, render and support conservation of its numerous endangered species, with special focus on its birds. The overall goal of her expedition was to bring particular attention to Mauritius and its wildlife, the geography of the island and the endemic species. The primary focus was on the Echo Parakeet, but also on highlighting the other endangered species, including the Pink Pigeon Mauritius Kestrel. 

The project purpose remains aimed at drawing attention to the tragedy of extinction, the significance of the loss of species, and the fragility of ecosystems such as those found on Mauritius. At the time of writing, Ria continues her work to raise funds directly for wildlife conservation in Mauritius through the World Parrot Trust. In addition to lectures and fundraising activities, Ria plans a major exhibition at the Blue Penny Museum in Port Louis, Mauritius, featuring  a series of 20 original paintings, a book and a special commemorative limited edition print. 

Ria was inspired to travel to Mauritius due to the unique and fragile habitats it holds and the large number of endemic species that live there. On her journey, Ria successfully observed many threatened land and marine species, although her goal was to observe three particular species of interest, including the Echo Parakeet, the Pink Pigeon and the Mauritius Kestrel.

Feb 12, 2012: Ria Winters' publishes book on AFC Trip To Mauritius. Read more

March 6, 2012: AFC Blog - Ria Winter’s shares a story about discovering a very rare member of the enigmatic family of "splitjaw snakes" in the Mauritius. Read more

 Flag Journal

 

Background

In natural history, the islands of the Republic of Mauritius are known for their endemic species and the tragic history of some of them. That makes Mauritius unique and provides a unique subject for a conservation awareness project.

The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)  was a flightless member of the pigeon family, native only to the island of Mauritius. Full-grown, dodos weighed about 23 kg (50 pounds). After arriving in Mauritius, Europeans found the Dodo to be an easy source food and by the late 17th century, it had been driven to extinction by humans and human-introduced noxious species including feral dogs, pigs, rats, and monkeys.

The Dodo was not the only Mauritian bird driven to extinction in recent centuries. Only 21 of the 45 bird species originally found in Mauritius survive today. One bird species closely related to the Dodo became extinct in 1790: the Rodrigues Solitaire (Raphus solitarius). 

The loss of the Dodo went largely unnoticed and was almost lost to history as a fictional oddity. Then, in the early 19th century, with the discovery of Dodo bones in the Mare aux Songes, reports written about them renewed interest in the species. The bird was brought to greater fame when it was featured in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. With the popularity of the book, the Dodo became a easily identifiable icon of extinction. The phrase “to go the way of the dodo” became a way of saying that something becomes extinct or obsolete, to fall out of common usage or practice, or to become a thing of the past.

Once common on Mauritius, the Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) suffered a decline to 10 individuals in the wild. Today, through agressive conservation efforts, the population has rebounded to a few hundred individuals, though restricted to a small area of remnant native upland forest within the Black River Gorges National Par..

The Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) was once found throughout Mauritius but is now limited to the wet upland forests in the south-west corner of the island. Suffering similar challenges faced by the Dodo, this very tame and vulnerable bird is threatened by habitat loss, cats, rats and monkeys. A captive breeding program started in the early 1980s, has increased population to more than 300 birds, from a low of roughly 20 in 1985. 

In the early 1970s, the endemic Kestrel population (Falco punctatus) fell to only 4 individuals, giving it the unenviable title of rarest bird in the world for a time. It has also recovered thorugh an active and successful intensive breeding program, though it remains  the rarest falcon in the world. 

Like the Echo Parakeet and Pink Pigeon, the Mauritius Falcon, is still recognized as an endangered species will require many more years of careful management to restore stable populations in the wild.

 

 

The key objectives of the expeditions are to:
  • Complete field sketches and gather reference material of habitat and wildlife during expedition to Nature Reserves in Mauritius.
  • Complete a minimum of  20 original works featuring endangered species, creating a unique and permanent record of this exceptional habitat.
  • Produce sketches and photographs that have been made in the field
  • Produce watercolors and oil paintings that will be made in the studio after the journey.
  • Develop a major exhibition of resulting artwork for display in Dutch and other European venues.
  • Launch of a commemorative limited edition print and a series of prints and cards from the resulting artwork.
  • Raise funds for the Echo Parakeet by selling prints and originals. The funds will go to the World Parrot Trust. The cards and prints of Echo Parakeet paintings will be for sale on the WPT website and will also be sold at fairs where the WPT is present.
  • Develop a lecture that focuses on extinction and conservation of endemic species using Mauritius as an example. A series of lectures will be held throughout the Netherlands at various conservation groups. During these events prints and cards will be for sale; the funds will go to the WPT.
  • Publish a book about the expedition Mauritius and it's wildlife. The book would be available for tourism and would have an educational function.
  • To utilize the resulting body of artwork, research material, and publicity opportunities to further the mission of the AFC, support conservation initiatives and educate the public to the challenges facing the ecology and species of fragile habitats like Mauritius.

 

 

In natural history, the islands of the Republic of Mauritius are known for their endemic species and the tragic history of some of them. That makes Mauritius unique and provides a unique subject for a conservation awareness project.

The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a  bird native only to the island of Mauritius. It was a flightless member of the pigeon family. Fully grown dodos weighed about 23 kg (50 pounds). When the Europeans arrived in Mauritius they discovered the Dodo as food. By 1681 it had been driven to extinction by humans and the feral dogs, pigs, rats, and monkeys that were introduced by the Europeans.

The Dodo was not the only Mauritian bird driven to extinction in recent centuries. Of the 45 bird species originally found, only 21 still survive. One bird species closely related to the Dodo became extinct in 1790: the Reunion Flightless Ibis (Raphus solitarius). Reports of sightings of living Dodos in the 1990s on Mauritius prompted William J. Gibbons to mount expeditions to search for them. None were found. On Rodrigues the Saddle-backed Rodrigues Giant Tortoise (Cylindraspis indica) also became extinct.

 

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