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Endangered Species Recovery in Mauritius

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On Round Island with a Gunther’s Gecko

My name is George Sayer, I have recently started on the newly accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Endangered Species Recovery, based in Mauritius. The course is run by Durrell Conservation Training Ltd (part of Durrell Wildlife Preservation Society) in collaboration with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) and Government of Mauritius National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS), and is accredited by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent.

I have been kindly invited by Andrew to share a few of my experiences on the FrogBlog.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.21.45I have just returned from 5 days on Round Island, a 214 Ha islet 22.5km off the coast of Mauritius. The island is essentially a large volcano with a breached cone at the centre. It was designated a nature reserve in 1957 and contains the last remnant of a lowland, plant-rich community dominated by endemic palms that was once widespread on Mauritius.

The island also boasts an ecosystem containing endemic seabirds and invertebrates. The island is free of introduced mammals (rodents have never made it, rabbits and goats have been exterminated) allowing an internationally significant and relatively-intact reptile community to survive, consisting of 7 endemic species:

  • Keel-scaled boa
  • Gunther’s gecko
  • Telfair skink
  • Durrell’s Night Gecko
  • Ornate Day-Gecko
  • Bojer’s Skink

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.31.26The more common Bouton’s skink also lives along the rocky shoreline. Before recent reintroductions 4 of these species only survived on this island, having previously been extirpated from Mainland Mauritius. Unfortunately another species, the Burrowing Boa is thought to now be extinct, having not been seen since 1975, but populations of the other reptiles appear to be doing well.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 07.28.12The island is now being used as a source from which to repopulate other offshore islands with reptiles to ensure continued survival in the face of human and environmental threats. Radiated and Aldabra Giant tortoises have been introduced onto the island to act as ecological replacements for the 2 extinct Mauritian tortoise species. They do a good job of suppressing invasive weeds and spreading the seeds of the native vegetation.

Access to the island is prohibited to the public to minimize risks of invasive species arriving or any damage to the ecosystem. The entire shoreline is rocky, making the only means of entry a long boat ride and a jump onto the rocks, or a Mauritian Police helicopter. This helps the wardens enforce this rule. This island along with several others around Mauritius is an exciting example of “marooning” endangered species away from multiple threats and recreating lost ecosystems as best we can.

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust      Mauritian Wildlife Foundation    NPCS


Pygmy Leaf Chameleons

Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, Rieppeleon breavicaudatus. (c) Matthew O'Donnell

Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, Rieppeleon breavicaudatus. (c) Matthew O’Donnell

Here on the Frog Blog we are no strangers to frogs that look like leaves. However leaf mimicry is not an adaptation exclusive to frogs, in fact there are a lot of species (often hard to find) that use this body design to evade detection from predators. One such species that I currently work with is the Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (Rieppeleon breavicaudatus) which is a tiny species of stump-tailed chameleon originating from the Eastern Usambara and Uluguru mountains in Tanzania.

IMG_0691This is a tiny species, with adults rarely exceeding 82mm in length. In fact they can be as small as 50mm fully gown. They are characterised by their high and laterally compressed body and reduced tail, which when combined together with their distinct lateral stripes have a remarkable similarity to a dead or wilted leaf. Unlike a lot of chameleons this species will spend a lot of time on or close to the forest floor hunting for small invertebrates.

Eggs of Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (C) M. O'Donnell.

Eggs of Bearded Pygmy Leaf Chameleon (C) M. O’Donnell.

This specialisation has enabled them to be become very successful in surviving, and in the places they occur they are considered locally common. Maintaining and breeding this species in captivity is also becoming more successful.

Females can produce between two and six eggs up to six times per year; the eggs resemble tiny tic tacs and will incubate in an incredibly short time – as quick as in 40 days given the right temperature and humidity!


The young hatch out looking like complete miniatures of the adults, and are about 18mm in length and begin feeding almost immediately.  These chameleons live life in the fast lane and take only nine months to reach maturity, which is necessary for reproducing as in the wild they can expect to live for only a couple of years at best. I am sure you will agree with me that they are a fascinating little chameleon species, and I will be happy to keep you updated on my work with them.