Eight mangrove finches which are one of the species that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of natural selection have been released into the wild recently.
On April 17th, the Mangrove Finch Project returned eight captive reared mangrove finches to Isabela Island where they have begun their release process. The project is being led by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment via the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) with support from San Diego Zoo Global and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. This is the second year of the effort to save this species.
Mangrove finches (Camarhynchus heliobates) are the rarest of Darwin’s fifteen finches. Just 80 individuals live in the wild with less than 20 breeding pairs. As many as 95% of nestlings will die during the first few months of life with research pointing at an introduced parasitic fly as the principal cause.
During early 2015 teams travelled to Playa Tortuga Negra, Isabela Island where they collected eggs and a wild hatchling. They were taken to the Charles Darwin Research Stations’ (CDRS) facility on Santa Cruz where they were captive reared. A team lead by expert staff from San Diego Zoo global along with staff from the Charles Darwin Foundation and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Fund cared for the chicks round the clock.
On their return to Playa Tortuga Negra the fledglings have been placed within smaller aviaries within a larger pre-release aviary. After settling in they will enter the larger aviary where they will stay for three to four weeks. Here they can adapt to wild life by starting to hunt locally caught insects. When they are ready the doors will open and the birds will flap off into the sunset. The aviary will remain open though in case they wish to return for supplementary food.
Attached to the tails of the bird will be a tracker which weighs just 0.3g. This will allow the field team to monitor their survival for up to 22 days.
The intensive conservation management program for the mangrove finch began during 2014 by the Mangrove Finch Project team. This was the first time that eggs were collected in the wild then transferred to Puerto Ayora where they could be reared. During May 2014 fifteen fledglings successfully entered the wild. This is the best strategy to ensure the ongoing survival of the mangrove finch as they cannot protect wild nests from the parasitic fly.
Photo Credit: By Michael Dvorak [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons