Tonga’s most endangered species of bird and plants could have been saved from extinction thanks to a project funded by the government and other overseas donors.
The hengehenga also known as Tongan whistler used to live in Vavaʻu Islands but their numbers were recently down and at risk of extinction.
The decline was attributed to the existence of rats because they prey on the hengehengas’ chicks.
A multi-funded project led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in partnership with the Government of Tonga help control the growth of rats and the threats they pose on the endangered birds.
A statement from SPREP said: “the ongoing control of rats on Mt. Talau has led to an increase in the number of Tongan whistler, Polynesian triller and Polynesian starling.
“Rats heavily impact the survival and productivity of the Tongan whistler because the birds build an open bowl nest that is easily accessed by rats”.
Mt. Talau’s rare endemic plant Casearia buelowii, has also been “protected from pigs over the past year with the construction of a pig-proof fence”.
Mr. Viliami Hakoumotu GEFPAS IAS Coordinator for Tonga said: “It is great to see that we are able to utilise techniques from New Zealand successfully in Vava’u to protect our rare birds and plants which are under threat from invasive species. This species of Tongan whistler is not found outside of the Vava’u Islands and the Casearia buelowii has such a beautiful flower but is only found on this one mountain.”
“Whilst the first opportunities to manage invasive species are prevention through biosecurity followed by eradication, or complete removal of a species from an island these options are not always realistic,” said Mr David Moverley, SPREP’s Invasive Species Advisor.
“Many invasive species are already widespread in the Pacific and impacting on our biodiversity, including our protected natural areas. When this is the case there are still options to protect these species and ecosystems with a site-led or asset based approach such as the project on Mt. Talau,” added Mr Moverley.
The work to eradicate rats on the island of Vava’u was funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and the implementing agency was the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).