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Mauritius highway plans shelved

Conservation Victory

In an important victory for conservation, plans for a road that would have devastated part of the forest heartland of the Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, one of the world’s flagship conservation success stories, have been shelved. The historic decision was announced in October following national elections when the Prime Minister of Mauritius was elected with promises to change the country within 100 days. One of his pledges was to cancel building of the section of the South-Eastern Highway that would have cut across the Mauritius east coast mountains Important Bird Area (IBA), damaging some of the last remaining quality forest in that part of Mauritius. Instead the highway will bypass Mahebourg then join the existing eastern coast road at Ferney.

"After more than 18 months campaigning against this road, which would have threatened the continuing recovery of the Mauritius Kestrel, we were delighted to learn the plans have been abandoned and the Ferney Valley will instead become a nature reserve," commented the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the island's largest conservation NGO. "We hope this marks a turning point in ecological awareness amongst decision-makers in the islands."Numbering just four wild birds in 1974, the Mauritius Kestrel was once the world’s rarest bird. Today its population has grown to between 800 and 1,000 individuals, thanks to a captive breeding and reintroduction programme run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Government of Mauritius, working with international partners including the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and The Peregrine Fund. The south-eastern forest is home to half the world population, centred around the Ferney Valley.

"Kestrels hunt for geckos inside the forest and require a habitat with high tree canopy and little undergrowth for their survival," say the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. "Opening up the forest by building a road through it speeds up invasion of the habitat by introduced species and leads to its rapid degradation, not only through disturbance during road construction, but also later, when the road acts as a corridor for invasive animals and plants to travel along."

4th July 2014