Saving French Polynesian Birds – Interview with Thomas Ghestemme from SOP Manu.

Written by Marta Noblejas – 2nd August 2017

Stretching over a large expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia consists of a group of 118 islands and atolls.
Described by some as the most beautiful place on Earth for its white beaches and spectacular lagoons, French Polynesia is home to many bird species found nowhere else on Earth. ​

General map – French Polynesia

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Unfortunately, when humans started to settle in the area they brought along non-native species such as rats, cats, goats and pigs. Most of the native birds, unaccustomed to these foreign predators, have been struggling ever since. Nowadays, many of these native birds are threatened, and some are at imminent risk of extinction.

Thomas Ghestemme has been working at SOP Manu for almost a decade.

“We have around 25 threatened bird species in French Polynesia. Five of them are Critically Endangered with numbers between 25 and 400 birds for each species, and we focus our work on these species. It is difficult to find the resources to work on the others.”

For most of the species, invasive alien species are the main threat, and many of them need to be controlled in order to give the polynesian birds a chance to survive.

“We have mynah birds, rats, cats, harriers, goats, pigs. We have little fire ants and yellow crazy ants, two of the worst ant species in the world.
For example, there are eight invasive species having a negative impact on the Tahiti Monarch! »

Jeune Monarque de Tahiti bagué - Photo Thomas Ghestemme

Young Tahiti Monarch©Thomas Ghestemme

According to Thomas, at first the local communities did not really understand the need to conserve native birds, but things seem to be getting better.

However, the threat is imminent. “We need to raise awareness now. In 20 years, it will be too late for some species.”

Birds of PF_2017_haut © Aurore Pernat

SOP Manu has been receiving regular support from the local government for more than 10 years, but this represents only a quarter of their annual budget.

”If we don t manage to find funds in other countries or through grants it could become very difficult. If you only have 25% of the budget and many species, which ones do you choose?”

As for Thomas favourite bird? “The Fatu Hiva Monarch, it is really funny they have feathers above the eyes and sing like a cat sounds when you step on its tail. It is twice the size of the Tahiti Monarch and it is definitely my favourite.

Jeune Monarque de Fatu Hiva©Robert Luta

Young Fatu Hiva Monarch©Robert Luta

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