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Mauritius Kestrel saved by controversial conservationist

Conservationist Carl Jones has probably rescued more species than anyone else, but you have probably never heard of him. His methods are controversial and so he is far from a celebrated figure. Perhaps he should be!



Jones believes that any species can be saved but that it is important to act immediately rather than studying the situation first. The accepted conservation wisdom is that the reasons for a species’ decline must be studied and fully understood before action is taken and that the focus should be on habitat restoration.


Studied to extinction


Carl Jones says that "a lot of species have been studied to extinction". He argues that it is better to tackle the limiting factors on a population first – food, nesting sites, competition, predation and disease. In other words, prop up the species so it can survive and then address the larger issues. One of his most notable successes was the Mauritius kestrel.


The last bird of prey


The last surviving bird of prey on Mauritius had appeared to be doomed. In 1974, there were just four Mauritius kestrels left in the wild. There had been attempts to breed the birds in captivity, but these had failed. It was believed that extinction was inevitable. Jones was working for the charity that became BirdLife International. His employers had instructed him not to get involved in trying to save the birds and to leave the conservation effort to the government.


Thankfully he ignored this instruction and used traditional captive-breeding methods which had been developed by Gerald Durrell and the conservationist Sir Peter Scott. He also practised double-clutching. This is the technique of removing eggs and hand-rearing the young to encourage females to lay a second clutch. He spent many hours camping beneath nests to learn more about the birds and he provided supplementary food.


Tackling mongooses


Jones discovered that mongooses were raiding the nests and so designed new nesting boxes and trapped the mongooses, a non-native species. Most conservationists advocate a hands-off approach. Jones does the exact opposite. He certainly worked a miracle in Mauritius because the kestrels’ numbers increased a hundredfold.


Saving parakeets and warblers


Having rescued the kestrels, Jones went on to save many more species including the echo parakeet and the Rodrigues warbler. He is now the chief scientist at Trust. His thinking may challenge the establishment, but his methods work. He is particularly infuriated by the idea that species should be prioritised according to how easy they would be to save rather than the urgency of their need.


Reintroduction and proxies


While most conservationists frown on single-species conservation, Jones champions it. He believes that in rescuing one species you preserve the ecosystem and therefore support all other species. It’s hard to argue with his logic which he is now applying to conservation in the United Kingdom. He feels that the ecosystems of this country could be better supported by reintroducing lost species such as wild cats and introducing proxies where the relevant species are extinct worldwide. He is even advocating bringing penguins to the Northern Hemisphere as proxies for the lost great auk.


Carl Jones has dedicated his life to saving lost species and deserves far more recognition than he has received. You can’t help hoping that his penguin idea comes to fruition!


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