Frégate Island Beetle Programme
To breed and reintroduce Frégate Island beetles into their former range in the Seychelles
The Frégate Island giant beetle, Polposipus herculaneus, is endemic to Frégate Island, which is part of the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, north east of Madagascar, approximately 1600 km from East Africa and 1700 km from India. Frégate Island is the most easterly and isolated island of the Seychelles group, being 55 km away from the main island Mahé. The island is granitic, a remnant of the continental rock of Gondwanaland. It is only about 202 hectares in area and comprises two rocky hills with the highest point at 125 m asl, boarded to the east and the west by low-lying coastal areas, known locally as "plateaux".
The Frégate Island giant beetle, Polposipus herculeanus, has a highly restricted distribution and is listed as Critically Endangered (A2e) in the IUCN Red Data List 2006. During hotel construction in 1994, brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) were accidentally introduced into Fregate Island initiating concerns about the potential predation threat to the native wildlife. The rats became established as from 1995 and were slowly munching their way through the island's unique wildlife, threatening e.g. the Seychelles magpie-robin (Copsychus sechellarum), the Frégate snail (Pachnodus fregatensis) and the Frégate Island giant beetle.
It was, therefore, decided to establish ex situ populations of several species, while a rat eradication programme was going on on Frégate Island.
With the support of the Government of Seychelles and Frégate Island Private, in 1996 the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) Invertebrate Conservation Unit (ICU) was approached by the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles and Birdlife International and asked to establish an ex situ reserve population of Frégate Island giant beetles with founder stock collected from the island. As a result 47 beetles were collected and transferred to ZSL in 1996 and a further 20 beetles were collected in 1999.
An ex situ breeding programme was drawn up with the goals of establishing a proven husbandry protocol for maintaining and breeding Frégate Island giant beetles in human care, conducting research into the beetles' life history, and investigating disease profiles of the species.
The conservation breeding programme has proved successful; its husbandry remit has been realised and it continues to provide much needed life history and health information. Breeding populations have been established at a number of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) regional institutions. In 2002 the programme was officially elevated to European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) status. By 2004 the EEP population was over 1000 adult beetles and bred to the fifth generation. The husbandry protocol and results of research into the beetle's life history and development was published in 2004, as "Management Guidelines for the Frégate beetle" (Ferguson AJ & Pearce-Kelly P, 2004). The beetles are on public exhibition at a number of the participating institutions with associated interpretation to educate and raise awareness of the species and the wider conservation issues.
Simultaneously, in situ rat eradication efforts, initiated in 2000, have been successful and measures put into place to prevent future re-invasion. However, the beetle remains vulnerable due to its restricted range, so still warrants conservation focus. More recent threats include habitat loss due to a fungal disease affecting a tree species with which the beetle is closely associated. Beetle epidemiological investigations are in progress to further inform in situ conservation management options. Liaison with Frégate Island Private and other collaborating parties are ongoing.
WAZA Conservation Project 06013 is implemented by the Zoological Society of London, in collaboration with other zoos participating in the EEP, e.g. Amsterdam Zoo, Bristol Zoo, Poznan Zoo and Riga Zoo, and with Frégate Island Private, Birdlife Seychelles, and Nature Protection Trust Seychelles. Supported by BIAZA and EAZA.
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