Past, present and future perspectives

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Mauritius and Seychelles are ranked second and third in the world in terms of the percentage of native plants threatened

As a result of these pressures, a significant number of plant and animal species in the Western Indian Ocean Islands are threatened with extinction or have become extinct-the most notorious case being that of the Dodo of which the demise is attributed to overhunting and the introduction of alien species. Throughout the Western Indian Ocean Islands, populations of endangered marine species such as the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle, the Coelacanth and the Dugong have declined in recent years. In Mauritius 62 animal species-mainly birds, reptiles and a large number of molluscs-have become extinct and several species now only survive in small populations under protection schemes. Mauritius and Seychelles are ranked second and third in the world in terms of the percentage of native plants threatened (UNEP 1999). The numbers of threatened species in the sub-region are given in Table 2b.8.

Table 2b.8: threatened species in the Western Indian Ocean Islands (percentage of known species)
Country Higher plants Mammals Birds Reptiles Amphibians
Comoros 1 18 6 8 0
Madagascar 5 28 10 5 1
Mauritius 71 100 37 55 27
Seychelles 8 8 7 27 33
Source: UNEP 1999, UNDP 2000

In response to the threats to natural habitats in the Western Indian Ocean Islands, protected areas have been established inland and in the coastal and marine zones. In 1999, there were: 1 reserve in Comoros; 44 protected areas covering 2.9 per cent of the land area in Madagascar; 18 reserves covering 3.7 per cent of the land area in Mauritius; and 26 sites covering 47 per cent of the land area in Seychelles (UNEP 1999). The Andringitra Reserve, newly created in Madagascar with the assistance of WWF, is thought to be one of the world's most biologically rich areas, and to be most representative of the island. The Andohahela National Park, Bexa Mahafaly Special Reserve and Lac Tsimanampetsotsa are areas designated as reserves with the specific aim of protecting the dry forest and spiny thicket habitats which are unique to Madagascar.

The sub-region also has two Biosphere Reserves in Madagascar and one in Mauritius, three World Heritage sites (two in Seychelles and one in Madagascar), and four Ramsar sites (one in Comoros, two in Madagascar, and one in Mauritius) (Ramsar 2002, UNESCO 2002, UNEP 1999). Mauritius has also signed the Ramsar Convention, but has not yet designated a site. All of the Western Indian Ocean Islands are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and efforts are underway to develop a conceptual framework for coral reef conservation. The Indian Ocean Commission has initiated a regional project with a view to achieving sustainable management of natural resources. This aims to protect resources and integrate management in the coastal zone, and to protect and conserve endangered endemic flora.

More than 20 endangered species in the Western Indian Ocean Islands, are protected by official programmes within national protected areas. Madagascar has 10 programmes for conservation of species in protected areas and there are 8 in Mauritius and 3 in Seychelles. Particular success has been achieved in the Seychelles with the protection of the Aldabra Tortoise through an Australasian Species Management Programme-there are now 155 000 specimens in the wild. In Mauritius, the Pink Pigeon has been successfully conserved through a Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust project and some 300 are now surviving in the wild. In Seychelles, populations of the Brush Warbler, a species that was critically threatened, have grown to 250 and, in Mauritius, the Rodrigues Flying Fox has successfully recovered under the North American Species Survival Plan. There are now 350 flying foxes surviving in the wild (UNEP 1999).

Eradication of introduced problem predators such as rats, mice and macaques has been achieved in some of the smaller islands, by means including poison pellets, wax blocks, and trapping. Infestations of alien plants are being controlled within conservation management areas by manual weeding and by erecting barriers to pigs and other animals that may disperse the seeds. Airports and seaports are also carefully monitored and incoming traffic is sprayed with insecticides and herbicides to reduce the risk of accidental introductions. There are also strict regulations on animal and plant products entering the country. Reducing populations to manageable levels will, however, take a long time and will require considerable resources.

All of the West Indian Ocean Islands have ratified the CITES, and Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles have established Management and Scientific Authorities to regulate the granting of import and export permits. National programmes have also been established to encourage sustainable use and trade in certain wildlife products (including shells, turtle products, seabirds and their eggs, and certain plants), but these frequently suffer from insufficient resources to properly implement the restrictions. A major subregion- wide policy giving highest priority to conservation of endangered species is an immediate requirement. Alternative strategies to individual species conservation programmes and creation of protected areas are also required. Local communities and national economies need alternative resources or means of support, and a culture of sustainable harvesting needs to be implemented.