Tuesday, December 15, 2009
VCE Colleagues Report from Haiti's Pic Macaya
Welcome second-hand news was received earlier today from VCE friend Paul Rudenberg in Les Cayes, Haiti. Paul reported that he had received a cell phone call from the most unlikely of places -- the summit of Pic Macaya, at nearly 2,350 meters (7000 feet) elevation the Massif de la Hotte's highest and most remote peak. VCE colleagues and former staff Jim Goetz and Julie Hart, together with our colleagues Enold Louis Jean and Anderson Jean of the Audubon Center in Les Cayes, reached the top of Pic Macaya after a grueling 2-day hike. They reported uncharacteristically fine weather and were searching for a campsite under the towering Hispaniolan pines as they called in to Paul.
The team is on a weeklong quest to conduct surveys for the critically endangered Black-capped Petrel, a seabird that comes ashore each November and December to breed on high-elevation cliffs of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The species' stronghold is in eastern Haiti's Massif de la Selle range, but Macaya is believed to harbor a breeding population as well. Its life history and conservation status are poorly known, but numbers are believed to have declined to alarmingly low levels, perhaps fewer than 1,000 individuals. Goetz, currently a graduate student at Cornell University, and his team hope to document the locations and abundance of breeding petrels in Macaya, as part of a broader effort to conserve the species and its threatened habitats.
VCE's field expeditions to the Macaya Biosphere Reserve in 2004 and 2006 helped to establish the area's importance as one of Haiti's last remaining large tracts of intact forest. The region's remnant pine forests, featuring some of Hispaniola's most massive trees, and its karst broadleaf forests support an impressive array of flora and fauna, much of it endemic. It is one of only two areas in Haiti known to be inhabited by wintering Bicknell's Thrush, and it is a crucial refuge for other migrant and resident birds. Fortunately, the conservation tide may be turning, as the international community is beginning to devote attention and resources to this beleaguered area, accompanied by a groundswell of local commitment by dedicated individuals like Enold and Anderson, and staff of the Societe Audubon Haiti. There is reason for optimism.
Stay tuned for a field update from Jim, Julie and their team!