- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

LE JARDIN DU ROI, Seychelles — The green parakeets that live on the tropical paradise of Seychelles fly into the bamboo stalks next to Micheleine Georges‘ 150-year-old farmhouse at dusk.

The birds are small and cute. They also are marked for death.

A project funded by the European Union aims to eradicate the Indian ringneck parakeet so a Seychelles national bird - the black parrot - may live, according to those carrying out the program. The black parrot could be wiped out by a disease that the Indian ringneck parakeet carries.

At 6:20 p.m., small packs of green parakeets begin flying up the valley to the bamboo patch beside Ms. Georges‘ house. Gliding in under a bright crescent moon in small groups of three, five or 10 birds, they whoosh into the bamboo, not far from the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg that Ms. Georges sells to tourists.

An animal-lover, Ms. Georges has mixed feelings about the kill mission. She says it would be a “calamity” if the parakeets wiped out the nation’s black parrots, but otherwise she enjoys watching them fly in to roost for the night.

“They seem to be a part of the evening routine. You finish work, you have a beer on the deck, and you see the droves of birds coming up to the trees,” she says.

The Indian ringneck parakeet first appeared in the Seychelles in the 1970s, perhaps when a caged pet escaped or was set free, says Peter Haverson, a Briton with a novel job title: avian eradication specialist.

The population turned viable in the mid-1980s, and by the 1990s, it was recognized as a threat.

In 2000, when Mr. Haverson guesses that the population was just a couple dozen strong, the island began an awareness campaign against the birds.

Parrots in paradise

Though graceful and good-looking, the green parakeets have earned the designation of pest. They eat from residential fruit trees and commercial crops.

Perhaps of greater concern to Seychelles, they could kill off the nation’s black parrots by introducing beak and feather disease, a fatal affliction for the black parrot.

The two species don’t yet intermingle. The green parakeets are found only on the country’s main island, Mahe, while the black parrots live on Praslin, 25 miles to the northeast. That’s likely too far to fly, but biologists fear the green parakeets could hop on a ferry and land in Praslin.

The Seychelles Islands Foundation eradication project estimates that the island nation has 230 of the parakeets, a number that would rise to 3,000 birds in a decade if the birds are allowed to live.

The parakeets can grow to 16 inches, twice as big as the budgerigar parakeet, the common house pet, which grows to about 7 inches.

The Seychelles is a chain of 115 breathtakingly beautiful islands far out in East Africa’s Indian Ocean. That isolation creates unique miniecosystems, but it also can place the black parrot in peril.

“They tend to be more vulnerable to diseases because they’ve been brought up in an environment where they’re not open to global threats of other diseases,” Mr. Haverson says. “They’re very secure here, but now you have an alien invader coming in which has this disease which could devastate it.”

Other countries - Britain, Australia and parts of the United States - also are seeking to control their green parakeet populations, he says, but the Seychelles project is the first attempt to eradicate the bird from an ecosystem.

To kill a flocking bird

The Indian ringneck parakeet is native to 35 countries and has been introduced to another 39. Its growth is a consequence of the global travel patterns of humans.

Invasive species are recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity as a major threat to ecosystems, especially island ecosystems.

“Because Seychelles is such a small island, it’s an achievable program here,” Mr. Haverson says.

Ms. Georges - the 75-year-old caretaker of Le Jardin du Roi, or the Garden of the King - is skeptical the project will succeed in killing all the birds.

“How are they going to do it? How?” she asks.

So far, only a count of the green parakeet has been achieved. Nets and guns are being brought in.

Hand in hand with the eradication campaign is an educational campaign designed to lessen the outcry over killing the birds.

“These parrots aren’t part of their natural heritage,” says Nancy Bunbury, who works with the Seychelles Islands Foundation. “If we can get that message through to [Seychelles residents] they are more accepting of the fact that you want to do something about it.”

The foundation received official notification last month that it can carry out the project, Ms. Bunbury says.

Eradication is likely to begin in November or December. The program, which has the backing of the Seychelles Ministry for Environment and Energy, is one of several the foundation is carrying out thanks to a $960,000 grant from the European Union.

Ms. Bunbury and Mr. Haverson argue that the damage the green parakeets could cause in the Seychelles is higher than in other regions because of the Seychelles‘ small size and extreme isolation. Seychelles must import much of what it consumes, so if the little agriculture the islands do carry out is ruined, it could have outsized financial consequences, they say.

The project will place nets around the roosting site next to Ms. Georges‘ wooden farmhouse. Any birds that evade the nets will be targeted through guns with silencers.

As the green parakeets swooshed into her green bamboo stalks on a recent evening, Ms. Georges sat on a wooden bench, looked down her lush green valley and out onto a moonlit Indian Ocean.

“Definitely the black parrot has priority over the little green ones, but still it would be a shame to eradicate them,” she said as the day’s light faded.

“You sit here. The moon and the birds come in. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling at the day’s end.”

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