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Successful translocation sees first petrel chick

Culmination of 50-year project

The first Bermuda Petrel Pterodroma cahow chick to be born on Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, for almost 400 years, has recently hatched, the result of a successful translocation programme.

"The birth of this chick is an extraordinary achievement for those who have dedicated their lives to saving this rare bird from the brink of extinction", said Glenn Blakeney, the Bermuda Minister of the Environment and Sports.

Bermuda Petrel (also known as the Cahow) once numbered in the tens of thousands before the island’s discovery by the Spanish in the early 1500s. The Cahow changed Bermuda’s history, as the ghostly sounds made at night by the island’s huge Cahow population so frightened the superstitious Spanish sailors that they thought Bermuda was inhabited by devils and never settled there. However, although they didn’t settle, they left pigs on the island as food for shipwrecked sailors.

Over the next hundred years, the pigs destroyed almost 90% of the Cahow population, rooting up the bird’s nest burrows and eating eggs, chicks and adult birds. By the time the English settled Bermuda in 1609, the Cahows only survived on remote islands.

Due to predation by rats, cats and dogs brought to Bermuda by the early settlers, and hunting by the settlers themselves, the remaining Cahows disappeared very quickly, and were thought to be extinct by the 1620s. No Cahows was seen between 1620 and 1951, when a few breeding pairs were discovered nesting on some of the smallest and most remote rocky islands."I can not think of a more appropriate success story appropriate for the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Bermuda as the Cahow practically saved the early settlers but then they almost became extinct because of them!", said Dr David Wingate.

Dr. Wingate's interest in the Cahow began in 1951, when the species was rediscovered and he ended up devoting 50 years of his life to saving the species.

After removing all the rats from Nonsuch Island, 105 Cahow chicks were moved there between 2004 and 2008 in the hope of establishing a new predator-free breeding population.

In 2008, the first of these now fully-grown Cahows returned to nest burrows on Nonsuch. Four Cahows, identified by their tags as leaving from Nonsuch in 2005, were recaptured ‘prospecting’ new nests and now a pair has successfully bred."I'm hopeful that next year we will see more chicks born on Nonsuch and we will then truly have secured a major victory in ensuring the future survival of this most extraordinary bird", said Jeremy Madeiros, Conservation Officer for the Department of Conservation Services.

Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming increasingly threatened at a faster rate globally than all other species-groups of birds. Seabirds face a variety of threats, both on land and at sea. Currently the most critical conservation problem facing seabirds is thought to be bycatch caused by mortality in longline fisheres. It is estimated that over 100,000 birds – including tens of thousands of albatrosses – are killed annually by pirate fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean alone.

4th July 2014