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BIO conservation ‘hero’ rewarded for lifetime’s work

Professor Carl JonesHe came too late to save the dodo, but a UEA biologist will be announced as the winner of a world-leading award for animal conservation.

Prof Carl Jones MBE from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences is thought to have saved more species than anyone else.

And he will today be rewarded for his life-long efforts - when he will be named as the winner of this year’s $250,000 Indianapolis Prize.

The award recognises heroic individuals who have achieved major victories in advancing the sustainability of an animal species or group of species.

Prof Jones has worked tirelessly to conserve dwindling bird and animal species on the island of Mauritius – home of the late dodo – for nearly 40 years, with support from colleagues including Dr Diana Bell and many UEA students.

Hundreds of years after the dodo vanished, its relatives — species that include the pink pigeon, echo parakeet, and the Mauritius kestrel — came close to a similar fate. By the late 1970s, the island had lost more than 95 percent of its biodiversity.

Pink pigeon

Above: Pink pigeon (credit Durrell)

But thanks to the work of Prof Jones, these species and more were brought back from the brink of extinction.

Jones focused his early conservation efforts on the rarest bird in the world - the Mauritius kestrel, of which only four were left in the wild. In just one decade, he successfully reared and released 333 Mauritius kestrels into the wild.

It was during this time that he discovered all Mauritian species have a distinctly important ecological function - from the echo parakeet to the extinct giant tortoises which used to roam the island   

Jones found that to save one species, you must save them all. And after pioneering new population management techniques, he reversed the decline of the island’s most endangered species.

To date, he has driven recoveries in seven bird, seven reptile and two mammal species, all of which are or were globally threatened. He has also been credited with bringing back dozens of species of plants - some of which would also have been completely lost.

Above: Mauritius kestrel (credit Sam Cartwright)

He said: “It is wonderful to have won this prize and to get recognition for what has become a life's work.  

“It is particularly pleasing considering the amount of criticism that we received in the early days when there was a lot of feeling against the use of captive breeding to help conserve critically endangered species, and also against the intensive management of species in the wild.

“More recently there have been some strong feelings against the use of ecological replacements - such as using Aldabra giant tortoises to replace the extinct Mauritius tortoise.  

“I find this a very exciting initiative because without the Aldabra giant tortoises to maintain grazing, it is likely that several species of endemic plants that flourish in these grazed areas would become extinct.

Telfair's skink

Above: Telfair's skink (credit Nik Cole)

“It is also good to see recognition being given to our work on some of the lesser known species. In the past, the winners have all worked with much higher profile species such as elephants, pandas, polar bears and lemurs. 

“My links with UEA have been very important since Dr Diana Bell and her many students helped develop some of the studies on the endangered species and in particular helped with the pink pigeon and Mauritius fody.  

“Diana has helped in integrating the science with effective conservation management. The pink pigeons are very prone to a disease called Trichomoniasis which Diana has been studying. And more recently, working with colleagues from The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), they have sequenced the genome of the pink pigeon.”

Prof Jones was one of six international finalists from institutions including Colorado State University, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

The announcement will be made at a special ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London today.

Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which administers the Indianapolis Prize, said: “Our world is unquestionably better off because of Prof Carl Jones, and we hope others will not only take notice of, but also join in his noble work to save wild things and wild places.”