In Germany, not many people will know the meaning of the words ‘endemism’ or ‘endemic species’. Well, not unless they’re biologists or at least interested in natural history. I guess the same applies to the rest of Europe as well. An endemic species is one which only occurs in a particular restricted area, e.g. an island. Usually it cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
In New Caledonia, however, many people seem to know these terms and refer to them quite regularly. I am not talking about scientific texts here, but more or less everyday conversations, for instance when I hitchhike and tell people what I am interested in. Then I know for sure that I am in a place that is different from home!
But why I am telling you this? Well, I saw a particular endemic animal species the other day. You know by now that I have a soft spot for parrots. And even though I did not make a bucket list of things to do before my trip to the south Pacific, I knew for sure that I wanted to the see the Ouvéa parakeet in the wild.
This neat bird is actually the main reason why I was so keen on visiting Ouvéa island. And I was not disappointed!
Was it hard to find? Errr, to tell you the truth: not at all! This was about the least adventurous that birdwatching can be.
Here’s how it’s done: you read the tourism brochure about Ouvéa, you are delighted to see the photo of the parrot, you read the names of the two local guides listed underneath that photo, you dial the first number in the morning, you reach Jean Baptiste, you make an appointment at his place in the tribe of Téouta at the northern tip of the island, you ‘do the thumb’ to get there (you forget your hat in one of the cars en route), you are there even before the rendez-vous at 3 pm. You walk into JB’s garden, you are greeted by his wife, she brings you coffee and water, he joins you and brings fresh mangos, you sit and talk. And you start to listen for those parrots.
You ask JB what the best approach to finding the parrots is. He tells you that they love to come into the garden to forage in those fruit trees, because they are really into mango, papaya, but also avocado. With larger groups of visitors he will also go in the woods nearby to show them the parrot’s natural habitat or perhaps even a tree in which they nest. But since he knows that you want to take photos (and also because he already had a group that morning and had just taken a nap when I arrived), he prefers to stay in the garden and wait for the birds to arrive. Which they do!
The birds are a bit shy, but also hungry. So it’s not really difficult to capture them with the camera. There are at least three different individuals, probably two adults with one juvenile bird which is less than one year old. You can tell the age difference by the colour of their beaks, because the young bird’s beak isn’t black yet.
And he’s still begging to be fed by his parents!
They sure do love mangos!
Occasionally JB and I get up from the place in the shade where we are sitting in order to actively search for the birds in his large garden.
I really like his garden. Lots of decorative stuff, and no rubbish lying around!
As the name Ouvéa parakeet (Eunymphicus uvaeensis) already suggests, this particular bird only lives on Ouvéa! So if somebody wants to see all the bird species in the world, he or she needs to come to that little island at some point. It is a close relative of the horned parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus), a parrot that is endemic to Grande Terre.
The exact size of the breeding population is not known, but it seems to fare rather well. In the early 1990s, the numbers were down to just several hundred individuals, mainly due to the fact that the birds were caught and sold as pets. But since legal protection was introduced and the elders of the tribes on Ouvéa decided to undertake measures to safeguard the species, numbers have risen again. The north of Ouvéa is still the stronghold of the parrot population, but they are now slowly spreading out to the centre and also the south of the island. That’s good news and quite a success story in conservation!
It is absolutely vital for the survival of this beautiful bird that Ouvéa remains (relatively) pest-free. Fortunately, the only rat species to be found here at present is the Polynesian rat (or Pacific rat, Rattus exulans) which is apparently not so dangerous for the parakeets. Should the black rat (Rattus rattus) get onto the island, however, this could have disastrous effects on the bird population. The parrots build their nests in cavities in old trees, i.e. very easy to reach for hungry rats… Fingers crossed that the island will remain free of the black rat and other threats.
A local organisation was formed in the 1990s to ensure the survival of the Ouvéa parakeet and the island’s biodiversity in general. Its present name is Association pour le sauvegarde de la biodiversité d’Ouvéa (ASBO), a small but very efficient organisation indeed. I wish them, and the Ouvéa parakeet, the best of luck!
(Click here for more bird-related articles on this travel blog).