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Booby Bird Making Comeback

Abbot's Booby Papasula abbotti is a tree-nester with 5,000 pairs breeding solely on Australia's Christmas Island. Possibly the most serious threat is the introduced yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), which spread rapidly during the 1990s to cover 28% of the island's forest. Super-colonies of ants were likely to prey directly on booby nestlings, and alter the island's ecology by killing the dominant life-form, the red crab (Gecaroidea natalis), and by farming scale insects, which damage the trees. However, recent ant control efforts have proved successful and the booby's future now looks more secure. It moves from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Photo Credit: Tony Palliser.
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) May 03, 2006
Life is looking rosier for Abbott's booby, one of the world's rarest birds and a native of Australia's Christmas Island, according to a World Conservation Union (IUCN) report Tuesday.

The species of seabird, known as Papasula abbotti, has been moved out of the "critically endangered" category in the IUCN's latest Red List into the slightly more comfortable "endangered" section thanks to conservation measures.

The world's entire population of the bird -- 2,500 according to some estimates -- breeds on the island, giving birth to their offspring high above the ground in nests on the rainforest canopy.

That makes the survival of the booby frighteningly vulnerable to a tropical cyclone during the breeding season, and especially to the onslaught of the non-native yellow crazy ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes.

The ant -- an "introduced invasive alien species", in IUCN terminology -- was accidentally brought into the Indian Ocean island starting from 1915, according to Australian Department of the Environment's website.

Since then, the hyper-multiplying ants have wiped out the local crab population, which disturbed the huge ant colonies as they moved about the forest floor, by spraying the area with formic acid. The crabs fertilised the ground, providing vital sustenance for tree life, and ate up seedling weeds that otherwise stifle tall vegetation on Christmas Island.

Over the decades, their disappearance helped open up huge gaps in the forest canopy as trees died, and in turn eroded the breeding habitat of Abbott's booby.

The booby's ardour has been helped by 1.5 million Australian dollar ant control programme using tonnes of poisoned fish bait distributed around the island by helicopters, the Australian environment department said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Mass Dolphin Deaths Off Zanzibar A Mystery
Zanzibar, Tanzania (AFP) May 03, 2006
Scientists probing the deaths of hundreds of dolphins that beached themselves on Tanzania's Zanzibar archipelago last week said Tuesday they had no idea yet what caused the phenomenon.

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