#BOUsci24 – Keynote abstracts

Avian conservation translocations: from reinforcements to reintroductions to rewilding

12 – 13 November 2024
Zoom & X(Twitter)

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Process and progress in the translocation and reintroduction of bird populations

Carl G. Jones
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK

The origins of translocations, introductions and reintroductions have their origin deep in the past when birds were moved around for hunting and other utilitarian purposes. The early history of reintroductions were largely to restore or supplement game bird populations and mostly involve species with precocial young.

Reintroductions and translocations specifically for conservation date to the late 19th century, although only became adopted as a common approach a century later. Challenges remain in the reintroduction of social species that have altricial young and long development periods, such as the larger hornbills, parrots and condors. As we learn more about the management of bird populations it is becoming clear that for many species long term post-release care is an important component.

Reintroductions have always been controversial with purists who argue that with the restoration of habitats and protection bird populations will recolonise and recover naturally, as occurred in UK with the Avocet, Marsh Harrier and Osprey in Scotland. However, in a rapidly changing world the natural recolonisation of many species is unlikely within any reasonable timescale and the reintroduction of species increasingly needs to be viewed as not only restoring species but as an important component in the (re)-building of ecosystems.

Carl Jones is Chief Scientist at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and has been involved in reintroductions for over four decades. He has worked on 15 different species of birds, and several species of reptiles including the use ecologically similar species to be used as ecological replacements for extinct taxa. In addition to reintroductions, he is interested in long term post release management to maximise survival and productivity.

Use-inspired modelling: Demographic analysis in the context of conservation translocation decision making

Sarah J. Converse
University of Washington, US

Quantitative models are one of the primary means by which population ecologists learn about, and represent their understanding of, demographic processes. In the context of conservation translocations, and population management more broadly, however, the critical function of population models is to help decision makers evaluate available management actions with respect to management objectives. Such models can usefully be identified as population management models, as their purpose is not to develop or capture ecological knowledge, but instead is to assist managers in identifying effective management measures to conserve populations. Conservation translocations comprise a particularly challenging type of population management action, as available information is often relatively sparse and risks are typically large. I will introduce the concept of decision analysis as a framework for guiding conservation translocations, and more specifically for guiding the development of population management models useful for informing conservation translocations. I will also discuss particular considerations relevant to developing population models for conservation translocations. Developing population models within a decision-analytic framework can help scientists and managers keep their focus on determining the levers available to pull, and the smartest way to pull those levers, to effect the greatest success for species in need of conservation assistance.

Sarah J. Converse is the Unit Leader of the USGS Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and an Associate Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. Her research focuses on the development and application of methods to understand the functioning of populations and to improve their management, especially for small and declining populations. Much of her research has focused on combining decision analysis and population modeling to advance the effectiveness of conservation translocations.

The role of conservation translocations in rewilding

Phil Seddon
University of Otago, NZ

Often applied and much misunderstood, the concept of rewilding has shifted markedly from its North American roots, and now suffers from an overabundance of definitions. In some contexts, rewilding seemingly has come to mean almost any form of ecological restoration. Broadly we can recognise two types of Rewilding 2.0: passive rewilding where anthropogenic pressures are removed and some natural or novel ecological state develops, and trophic rewilding where missing biotic elements are actively restored. In trophic rewilding, conservation translocation, the movement and release of organisms to establish new populations, particularly through reintroductions, has a key role in the restoration of faunal elements that would not naturally recolonise an area. In the case of global species extinctions rewilding projects might consider the translocations of ecological replacements, functional proxies of the lost species, to restore lost ecosystem processes. Appropriate ecological replacements might be near relatives, extant but unrelated taxa occupying a similar niche, or even genetically modified hybrids such as through the proposed genetic modification of the Nicobar pigeon to replace the dodo in Mauritius, or hybrid bar-tailed pigeons as replacements for passenger pigeons in North America. Rewilding as a term is here to stay and conservation translocations will form an increasingly important element in many trophic rewilding projects.

Phil Seddon is a Professor of Zoology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Phil has been involved in conservation translocation research and management for over 30 years. He is an active member of the IUCN/SSC Conservation Translocation Specialist Group, and has advised reintroduction projects in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada, USA, Indonesia, and the Middle East. He is a co-author of the IUCN Guidelines on Reintroduction, and the IUCN Guiding Principles on De-extinction.

The interdisciplinary nature of conservation translocations: Mixing science and practice in reintroducing the ‘Alalā, Hawai’i’s last remaining corvid

Alison Greggor
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, US

Conservation translocations are inherently interdisciplinary interventions, especially when they involve releasing animals bred in human care. They require expertise and preparation across sites and partners, and must combine research approaches in order to craft species-specific protocols. I will share experiences, research breakthroughs and lessons learned in releasing Hawai’i’s last living corvid species, the ‘alalā (Corvus Hawaiiensis). After decades of conservation breeding and extinction in the wild, release efforts aim to reestablish a breeding population of this unique seed dispersing, tool using species. In preparing birds for release we combine behavioral training, disease screening and physical competency measures. We have designed anti-predator training, foraging exposures, and a system of monitoring social interactions. We work with a variety of partners to help monitor birds post-release, and adjust strategies based on outcomes. Like many endangered species programs, putting research into practice can be a challenge when sample sizes are small and opportunities for manipulation are limited. Yet there can still be ways to learn from both successes and failures as we continue on the path towards recovery.

Alison Greggor Ph.D., University of Cambridge, UK, is a Senior Researcher at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Her work covers research, conservation breeding and translocations with SDZWA’s Hawaiian bird and Pacific pocket mouse programs. She closely collaborates with government and NGO conservation partners to implement research findings and advance conservation goals. With a background in animal behavior and cognition, she advocates for evidence-based conservation and closing the researcher-practitioner gap.

Considerations for health and welfare in successful conservation translocation programmes – the tūturuatu/New Zealand shore plover as a case study

Kate McInnes
Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, NZ

Conservation translocations are the intentional movement of animals from one place to another for a conservation benefit. The goal is usually to release animals with the maximum probability of post-release survival and breeding, and health and welfare are core to this goal. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), welfare is an animal’s physical and mental state in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies. An animal experiences good welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, free from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress, and is able to express behaviours that are important for its physical and mental state. Health is a key component of animal welfare, with animal health professionals optimising the physical and behavioural health and welfare of animals to prevent, treat and control diseases. The WOAH definitions of both health and welfare cross-reference each other, as it is impossible to separate these intrinsically linked concepts, and they need to be managed in concert. Acknowledging the need to maximise both welfare and health facilitates planning and decision-making throughout all management aspects of the translocation, including individual selection, behaviour, genetics, parasites, pathogens, diet, nutrition, aviary environment, husbandry practices, capture, handling, transport, and release. The result is a robust individual which is well suited to, and able to survive and thrive, at the release site. This talk will explore different aspects of welfare and health in a captive breed-for-release programme involving a small shorebird, the tūturuatu/New Zealand shore plover.

Kate is a wildlife veterinarian with 26 years experience at the Department of Conservation in New Zealand. Her involvement in conservation translocations includes hands on work, technical, policy, and planning advice across a range of taxa, and contribution to development of the IUCN Wildlife Disease Risk Analysis Manual. She is currently undertaking an Avian Influenza vaccine safety and efficacy trial for five critically endangered species which is underpinned by health and welfare considerations.

Learning and uncertainty: Adaptive management of conservation translocations

Stefano Canessa
University of Bern, Switzerland

Adaptive management has become a sort of conservation cliché, advocated by all, implemented by many, but interpreted differently by everyone. The basic idea of adaptive management is simple: we learn from the results of our actions to keep improving our decisions. This is especially appealing for conservation translocations that take many years to complete, with substantial initial uncertainty but opportunities to learn along the way.

However, there are some big challenges to turning the intuitive principle of adaptive management into real practice. First, learning involves risk, and different people see different risks in different ways. Second, to learn properly, we need explicit predictions and formal updating of knowledge. Third, learning about complex systems – in the case of translocations, natural and manipulated at the same time – is usually not as easy or reliable as we think. Fourth, technical improvements in modelling and optimization offer only a partial solution: deep thinking is always required.

I will illustrate these challenges, and how they can be addressed, using two case studies of translocation programs at different scales in space, time, knowledge and budget. I will focus in particular on how we can expand widely used demographic tools such as population viability analysis, to be more explicit about our risk tolerance and more realistic about our ability to learn and improve.

Stefano Canessa is a Research Fellow at the University of Milan and University of Bern. His research focuses on demographic modelling and decision-making for endangered species management, particularly disease mitigation and conservation translocations. He is a member of the IUCN Conservation Translocation Specialist Group and has been involved in species recovery plans worldwide, ranging from frogs and turtles to birds and bats.

How does population monitoring and modelling get more birds in the bush? A perspective from the interface of science and practice

Kevin Parker
Parker Conservation, NZ

Conservation translocations have played a critical role in the recovery of threatened birds in Aotearoa New Zealand. More than 1200 translocations of 55 species have occurred over c. 150 years with five species only existing as translocated populations, 10 species having >1 population because of translocation, and >14 species considered more secure than they would have been because of conservation translocations. However, the decision to translocate is not trivial, especially when source populations are small, and the consequences of failure are high. There is also an inherent trade-off between the cost imposed on translocated individuals, and population gains for the species, because conservation translocations are inherently stressful and risky for translocated individuals. Therefore, a key question for improving translocation outcomes is: how do we measure and predict translocation success? Here, I present three case studies where targeted post release monitoring and population modelling have been used to inform translocation outcomes and predict success, by: 1) illustrating the trajectory of a declining population of karure/kakaruia/Chatham Island black robins (Petroica traversi), alongside the impacts of a reinforcement translocation on this trajectory and the ability of the only other population of black robins to sustain harvest for translocation; 2) documenting the varying impacts of increasing numbers of two key invasive predators, stoats (Mustela erminea) and cats (Felis catus), on three translocated species at a mainland sanctuary (tīeke/North Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus rufusater), toutouwai/North Island robins (Petroica longipes) and popokatea/whiteheads (Mohoua albicilla)); and 3) predicting the impact of landscape connectivity on translocation success of popokatea/whiteheads.

Kevin is a conservation scientist with expertise in reintroduction biology, threatened species management, and restoration ecology. His research and management perspective has been strongly influenced by extensive experience in applied conservation management as a scientist, park ranger, zookeeper, and through direct involvement in >70 translocations of 11 bird species and one invertebrate. He is a member of four threatened species recovery groups and provides advice to many translocation projects in Aotearoa New Zealand, and internationally.

Listening to the species: The key to long term success of the reintroduction of endangered Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda

Olivier Nsengimana
Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA)

Ten years ago in Rwanda, there were Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum) in captivity everywhere in hotels and in the gardens of private houses. Many people were unaware of the environmental consequences of keeping cranes as pets and did not know about their endangered status and the laws protecting them. The species and its habitat were also threatened by human factors often driven by conditions of poverty, livelihood disadvantage and lack of conservation awareness as well as people and animals competing for the same habitat. There were only an estimated 300 Grey Crowned Cranes remaining in the wild in Rwanda and with increasing threats to their habitat and being continually poached for the illegal trade, they were rapidly heading towards extinction.

Olivier will present the conservation project he implemented explaining how he and his team successfully removed all Grey Crowned Cranes from captivity in Rwanda, reintroducing healthy cranes to Akagera National Park, as well as working closely with communities living nearby crane habitats to ensure the illegal pet trade is abolished. Since beginning the project, the population of Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda has more than doubled.

However, in order to sustain this success, Olivier and his team have worked hard to continually adapt the community conservation approaches, co-creating nature-based solutions that benefit both people and wildlife. The development of the project has relied heavily on post-release monitoring. Through an enlightening story of crane number 039, Olivier will reveal the lessons he has learned from the listening to and observing the species and how this has shaped the project to ensure a growing and stable population of Grey Crowned Cranes across the region.

Olivier is a wildlife veterinarian in Rwanda, as well as having a Master of Veterinary Science, Conservation Medicine from the University of Edinburgh. Olivier designed a unique conservation project to abolish the illegal trade of the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda and won the Rolex Award for Enterprise which allowed him to start implementing the work. He established Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) in 2015 with the aim to apply home-grown solutions to protect and restore threatened wildlife and wild places throughout Rwanda. Olivier’s commitment and passion to community conservation has won a number of high-profile awards and his non-profit organisation now employs over 200 people with projects across multiple species and ecosystems.

Panel discussion

Conservation translocations: Looking to the future

Chaired by Geoff Hilton (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), with an opening presentation by Martin Gaywood (Nature Scot) and contributions from panellists Sarah Dalrymple (Liverpool John Moores University), Lee Schofield (Ecologist and Author), John Ewen (Zoological Society London), Delphine Pouget (Natural England) & Mary Davies (RSPB).

Conservation translocations: Learning from experience and looking to the future

Martin Gaywood
Nature Scot

Conservation translocations are on the increase. No longer just a tool of last resort, they continue to be used in initiatives designed to improve the conservation status of threatened species, but also to restore ecosystem functions and processes in wider nature restoration projects. They are photogenic, appealing projects that can engage and excite people, and provide hope during what can sometimes feel like a hopeless biodiversity crisis.

The experience gained over the past few decades means that there is now extensive information and guidance to help practitioners. Conservation translocations can be complex, requiring the input of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary specialisms in topics such as ecology, disease risk management and the social sciences. Creative new approaches continue to be developed, such as the use of keystone species and multiple species to restore ecosystems, assisted colonisations in response to threats from climate change and disease and ecological replacements to restore ecological functions lost through extinction. Genetic and genomic tools have increasingly important roles, developments in synthetic biological techniques present new opportunities but also ethical dilemmas, and animal welfare standards are being given increased attention. Particular consideration is now being given to how we in the conservation community need to get better at engaging with local communities and other stakeholders who host translocated species, may be affected adversely or wish to access socio-economic opportunities.

This talk will draw on experiences from home and abroad, and consider how the conservation community can use this developing tool to benefit nature with the support of key communities.

Martin is Species Projects Manager at NatureScot and Senior Researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He has worked on beaver reintroduction since 2000, the National Species Reintroduction Forum, Scotland’s Species Action Framework, Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations, Scotland’s Beaver Strategy, lead editor of ‘Conservation Translocations’ published by CUP and a member of the IUCN SSC Conservation Translocation Specialist Group. He’s received a Churchill Fellowship to research conservation translocations in a changing climate.

Scientific Programme Committee

Lynda Donaldson | Chair | RSPB, UK
Katie Beckmann | University of Edinburgh, UK
Victoria Franks | University of Salford, UK
Kevin Wood | Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, UK & BOU Meetings Committee