Biologist who saved nine species from extinction has been given the Indianapolis Prize for conservation.
A Welsh biologist once criticised for stealing eggs from the nests of the rarest bird in the world has been awarded the 'Nobel Prize' of conservation after his controversial methods saved nine species from extinction. Professor Carl Jones won the 2016 Indianapolis Prize - the highest accolade in the field of animal conservation - for his 40 years of work in Mauritius, where he saved an endangered kestrel from becoming the next Dodo.
When the 61-year-old first travelled to the east African island in the 1970s he was told to close down a project to save the Mauritius kestrel. At the time there were just four left in the wild, making it the rarest bird on Earth. However he stayed, implementing the controversial techniques of captive breeding and a strategy known as double-clutching, which involved snatching eggs from the birds' nests and hatching them under incubators, prompting the mothers to lay another set of eggs in the wild.
A decade later, the number of Mauritius kestrels had soared to over 300 and today there are around 400 in the wild. The biologist has also been integral in efforts to bring other rare species back from the brink of extinction, including the pink pigeon, echo parakeet and Rodrigues warbler.
He is credited with championing the idea of ecological replacement, which is a conservation tactic in which other species fill in important ecological roles once held by extinct species. Prof. Jones, originally from St Clears, near Carmarthen, was awarded the $250,000 prize at a ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London.
Reflecting on the start of his career, he said the Mauritius kestrel project had been seen as a dead loss at the time. He had originally gone out there for one or possible two years only to be told to pull out of the project and hand it over to the locals. At the time they didn't have the money or expertise to do it so that would essentially have meant closing it down.
In the 1970s there was fierce opposition to the captive breeding techniques, with critics arguing that they were too risky and took the emphasis off breeding in the wild. But the biologist, now chief scientist of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and scientific director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, said the method of taking eggs from the nests had worked exceedingly well.
Prof. Jones has dedicated his whole life to his work, only becoming a father for the first time eight years ago, at 53. He said receiving the prize was particularly important to him because it vindicated his work to save birds, whereas previous winners have tended to concentrate on more high profile species, like polar bears or elephants.
When asked what motivated him, the father of two said that when you lose species from the world you are simplifying the world and it's becoming a duller place. The world has become such a modified place and there are very few wild areas left. He said that he wanted to live in an interesting world which was diverse. Even if he did not get to see them, he wanted to know there were polar bears in the Arctic or blue whales in the ocean. However, despite humankind's scarring of the planet, Prof Jones refuses to be downbeat, and insists the future can still be a positive one.
There are lots of scientific breakthroughs such as gene editing and having designer systems and designer animals. It is absurd for people to criticise these methods saying they go against nature. But everything man does has an effect on nature. People are very happy to destroy the world, but if you want to save it, then you have to be prepared to take bold action. Dr Lee Durrell, director for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said that Carl was living proof that by having the courage, talent and vision to take small steps, we can win victories for species large, and small.