Division of Ecological Perplexities Presents:
Nature: Red in Tooth and Claw!
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AMPHIBIANSThere were no amphibians found by Stoddard et al in 1967 (though there were four species of earthworm), and I saw none there in 1982 during my TDY. However by the time I returned in 1987, there were a great number of toads around Point Marianne. The airfield construction in the early 1980s had resulted in a large catchment area at the southeast end of the field, which filled with and retained fresh water. The area was basically a marsh, and there were innumerable toads and tadpoles in the area. Many toads were squished every night on the road in that area. I have no idea where they came from (especially as I don't believe in spontaneous generation), and there were no books available on the island to assist with their identification, but they surely must have come aboard the Mary Jane, our monthly supply ship from Subic Bay in the Philippines, since somehow it is difficult to imagine a toad climbing up the boarding ladder to get on a C-141 flight (though I suppose it could happen).
Top Photo: Many thanks to Dan Cornine for the Toad Photo (from Point Marianne area, 1999)
Bottom Photo: Many thanks to Stacie J. for this one at the GPS site, 2011 - it is stealing cat food!
There are three lizards found on Diego Garcia as of 2011. They are:
Hemidactylus frenatus (the common house gecko)
Lepidodactylus lugubrus (Mourning gecko)
An Agamid lizard, Calotes versicolor (Garden lizard), and
Bufo marinus (Marine toad, a.k.a. Cane Toad)
Geckos have been on the island for decades, if not centuries, no doubt coming in on ships in the old days, and possibly even brought in purposefully to eat mosquitos. House Geckos aren't normally found in forest habitat - they hang out around humans and their buildings. The Mourning Gecko is also found around buildings, but can also be found in smaller numbers in the forest all over the island.
In 2001, the Garden Lizard was first observed in the vicinity of "Beach House", where it slowly increased in population until it spread both south and north and can now be found downtown.
None of the island reptiles have any serious competition ecologically speaking, and few, if any, predators, now that the cat population has been exterminated island-wide.
Within the last 20 years there have been a number of snakes captured at the ports of entry. These include: a viper (possibly an Echis species) from the Middle East, a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), and a probable Wolf snake (Lycodon species). There was also a probable Brown Treesnake sighting. Snakes could pose a very serious problem for the island ecosystem, and the island command goes to great lengths to capture or kill every possible intruder (see the story of the hunt for the Brown Treesnake on this website). Presently, environmental staff conducts bi-yearly training and education for port workers on the capture and identification of exotic species.
Top Photo: An immature Garden Lizard.
Bottom Photo: An adult male Garden Lizard.
Both photos taken near BOQ 8 by Christopher Morris
Thanks again to Don Cornine for the photo of the Rhinoceros Beetle!Rhinoceros beatles (Oryctes rhinoceros) are found all over in the litter underneath trees. These are about 3 inches long, and only the males have the horn. They are nocturnal and very rarely seen. In fact, people who claim to have seen them are usually accused of public drunkeness. Beckie Holloway, who took this photo of a female Rhino, says they are so oblivious to their surroundings, they'll walk into puddles and drown.
BIG NEWS: Phil Jones passed on the following information: A pair of British entomologist have discovered a previously unknown species of Moth living in the Chagos Archepelago, and of course on Diego Garcia! Read all about it in the British Ministry of Defence conservation magazine Sanctuary (edition #27). They call it the "St. Valentine's Day Moth" and it compliments the other endemic (that is to say not found anywhere else in the world) insects, which include two butterfly subspecies, the Meadow Argus and the Eggfly, and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth. All of these insects appear to be thriving on the island.
Photo by Jim Cox, taken Christmas Day, 2007:
In 1988, my friends Chris and Jane, both ROPOs, were attacked by these bees, which are the agressive African version.
Above: Family of donkeys at the GEODSS site, 1988.
Below: The most famous donkey on DG. SEABEEs adopted the colt you see here in 1971.
Raised primarily on beer, Missy (a.k.a. many other names), was banished to the East Point Plantation in 1979, and died there in 1983.
Missy the Beer Drinking Donkey. In 1980 & 1982. Photo on left by Dale Edmonds.In addition to people, rats, chickens, and cats, the British brought Sicilian Donkeys to the island for use on the plantations in about 1850. The reason was that the emancipation laws of Great Britian forbade using people to do work that could be done by animals - before the donkeys arrived the slaves had done all the hauling and dragging of the carts with the coconut nuts to the copra processing sheds at the East Point plantation. Eventually, the managers built little railroad tracks (about 2 feet apart) all over the island on which the copra carts traveled, making life easier for the donkeys. When the U.S. started construction of the airfield in 1971, and the islanders were shipped "home" to Mauritius and the Seychelles, the donkeys were turned loose, and eventually removed to south of the airfield. A fence was built across the narrowest part of the island on the west arm (which was less than 100 yards across at that point), and the donkeys left to their own devices. Even Missy, The Beer Drinking Donkey, (photo above right) who was raised from a colt by the SEABEES, was banished. By the way, never raise donkeys on booze. Missy died at the age of 12 from liver disease and chronic founder. Normally, donkeys live to be 30 years old or so.
By 1990, donkeys were the dominant mega-fauna of Diego Garcia (after the deaths of the 3 horses left behind when the Plantation closed). Everybody has a photo of them in their collection. The two photos above show that the donkeys don't change much in appearance or habits over the years. The photo on the left above is from 1971, and the one on the right from 2003. They prefer open spaces and gather in large groups wherever there is grass, but could be seen in the jungle in ones and twos as well. In 1987, there were estimated to be about 400 donkeys on the island, about twice the population in 1972. As is widely reported elsewhere, the dogs left behind by the deported Ilois were killed, to prevent an infestation of feral carnivores. Initially, the donkeys were left alive as an 'emergency food source', but by 1982, a program to kill them was proposed as well. However, animal rights groups in the U.K. protested, and they were not slaughtered, unlike the cats (which were for all intents and purposes were killed off by 2008).
The solution finally settled upon for the donkeys was that a veterinarian was occasionally brought to the island to sterilize the alpha males to prevent overpopulation. The photo above is from 1982 and is of a donkey just released by the Vet. Talk about one upset former stallion, although he was lucky I wasn't in charge - it always seemed to me that the solution shouldn't have cost more than 13 cents per round.
By 2005, it was estimated that there were no more then 38 donkeys remaining on DG. Quite a precipitous decline, and no one is sure of the reason, as the limited sterilization program was never designed to do more than keep the population from growing.
It's interesting to note that according to reports in the 1880s, the donkeys killed the sheep and goats that were introduced to the island. I guess they didn't care for competition.
There were 8 wild horses on DG in 1971. The plantation was closing down, but still in operation (the SEABEES were there too). The British governor of the BIOT (who was also governor of the Seychelles) ordered the best 5 to be captured and shipped to Mahe in the Seychelles. This was done by a veterinarian team in September, and the horses were crated on the deck of the MV NORDVAER. This trip also evacuated the the last of the plantation workers and their families (about 50 people) in a extremely uncomfortable trip for everyone (if you've seen a picture of the MV NORDVAER it was a very small ship).
The 3 horses that were left on DG were a mare, a filly and a gelding (guaranteeing no offspring). They lived out their lives in the vicinity of East Point Plantation, where they were seen on rare occassions by the lucky few. All 3 were still alive in 1980, when Dale Edmonds took a photo of them. I saw two of them together at the plantation in 1982, and one alone in 1988, but didn't get any photos. George Gessner took several photos of two horses in 1992.
A discussion on a FACEBOOK group in 2014 included a sighting of one horse in 1996, although a search directed by the Brit Rep turned up no trace of any horses, and they were then presumed dead. Since horses only live about 30 years, and the donkeys on DG are known to live shortened lives because of salt bloat, my guess is that if they lived to be 30 it would be a miracle. And, as the horses were full grown in 1971, a 1996 sighting of the last one reported on a FACEBOOK group sounds about right for the harsh environmental conditions of DG.
Here's a photo of the 3 horses taken in 1973 by Pat Haley:
And here's one taken in 1980 by Dale Edmonds.
Here are photos of the last 2 horses taken by George Gessner in 1992:
Here's a toast to the extinct Cats of Diego Garcia!
For all the cat lovers out there, GOOD NEWS!
There is still at least one cat (Felis domesticus) on Diego Garcia as of February 2011, and here's her picture. This old girl has been sheltered (and hidden when necessary) by the good folks at the GPS site for "about 20 years or more". She's been spayed and is getting long in the tooth, but she's still going strong. People even mail her cat food from the States...
For those of us who fondly remember dorm cats everywhere, it is comforting to know that there is some sympathy left in the world for the last of her kind. Many thanks to Stacie for the picture.DATELINE DIEGO GARCIA - 5 JUL 2012: The last domesticated cat on the island passes away.
From a July 5 communication from a current member of Detachment 1, 21 Space Operations Squadron (the GPS site), which had sheltered the cat from capture and euthanasia for a long, long time: "We have not seen her for four days now, and the last time we saw her she could barely walk and couldn't even hold her head up. We are pretty sure she wandered off into the woods and passed away.... )o
Unofficial reports are that there are "several" feral cats remaining on the atoll, but they live such a distance from each other that they apparently are unable to mate, as no kittens have been observed for "several years".
Cindy Qoth's October 2000 Update - "I was reading the Nature pages, and you mentioned geckos. They are all over the place now! I really don't recall there being many, if at all before. It is really kinda creepy making rounds in the middle of the nite and walking some places in BEQ 14, one or two spots with 20 or so of them on the roof of the walkways and walls. The make sort of a chirping croak...very weird. At least they are cute. The Cattle Egrets have taken the place of all the chickens, and are all over. There is a chicken cull every quarter, where only the roosters are supposed to be taken. Of course, the hens are, too, and it pissed off a lot of people to have bitty chicks left to fend for themselves or get eaten by...things. The frogs/toads whatever are all over the place...there were more until the rat poison was put out. The rats were everywhere, so poison was put out. Then there were less land crabs and frogs, the flies fed off the rats, and on up/thru the food chain. The crabs must be getting hit worst, they eat the dead rats AND the dead frogs."
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This, and everything else I write and every photo I produce is copyrighted by Ted A. Morris, Jr.