October 25, 2017 by Joann Adkins
Conservation biologist Paul Reillo is torn between two worlds in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria—one of swift action and one of waiting.
There is little time to rest. More than 200 animals, many fighting extinction, are relying on him. The FIU scientist is the founder of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), a partner in FIU's Tropical Conservation Institute (TCI), which offers safe haven, captive breeding programs and field-based conservation to help save endangered species. In a matter of two weeks, two species of birds on the brink of extinction were dealt devastating blows when Hurricanes Irma and Maria crossed the Caribbean, leaving devastation in their wakes. The team at the Tropical Conservation Institute knows it is facing an unprecedented conservation crisis.
Hurricane Irma caused more than $200,000 in damages at RSCF's property in Loxahatchee, Fla. Little could be done to save enclosures and fences from the storm, but Reillo and his team secured the animals, including 40 endangered east African bongo antelopes, 35 primates including endangered golden lion tamarins, nearly 100 parrots representing a variety of threatened and endangered species and 42 critically endangered Florida grasshopper sparrows.
The TCI team is putting in long hours to rebuild what was destroyed at the RSCF facility and to help the animals recover from the stress brought on by the storm. The Florida grasshopper sparrows are the greatest cause for concern. It is the world's most endangered bird with less than 100 remaining in the wild before Irma. The team fears the hurricane has crippled the wild population which resides exclusively in the prairie grasses of Central Florida. They are working with state and federal wildlife officials on strategies to help preserve the small number of birds that remain on the planet.