Indianapolis Prize candidate started by saving birds

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By his own account, Carl Jones was not a very good student.

He grew up in Wales, and instead of focusing on his work in the classroom at a young age, he kept his focus outside the classroom - on what he called the waifs and strays of the animal world.

"I had owls, I had hawks, I had crows, I had rabbits, I had foxes, I had badgers, I had fish, I had reptiles," he said, "and I learned how to keep many of these animals quite successfully."

It was this young boy's passion that turned into a grown man's life's work.

He was especially good at breeding birds and something he learned in the mid-1970s about a certain species of bird changed his life.

"One day I heard that on the Island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, there was the world rarest bird, the Mauritius kestrel, which had been reduced to just a handful of individuals and it would soon become extinct if something isn't going to be done about it," he said.
Jones thought, "Wow, I can breed kestrels! I can go and save that species."

He worked his contacts in the conservation world and, with the help of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, he took the job of saving the Mauritius kestrel in 1973. 

He was told the job would be difficult. Undaunted, and starting with just 4 individuals, Jones helped rear 333 MaritiuMauritiusls over the next year and released them back into the wild. In 2005, more than 1,000 of the birds covered the island - and that was just the beginning.

With the Mauritius kestrel population on its way to restoration, Jones turned his attention to other species - both plant and animal. He carried a strong belief that the key to preserving animals is to preserve the places where they live and the plants that population them. He worked to create a balanced eco-system in Mauritius and it was an uphill battle.

While Mauritius may look like a tropical paradise to most people, to an ecologist, Jones calls it a "disaster." He says most of the wildlife that's left is exotic - introduced to the island by earlier generations. 

"The native wildlife is only found on the tops of mountains or on some off-shore islands, and most of it is desperately rare," he said.
Jones saw it as a challenge, or as he put it, "a wonderful experience for me, because I went there with ecologist's eyes."

He's worked hard to change perceptions and the fate of endangered species for more than three decades, by any account saving dozens of species of birds and reptiles, all of which play a role in balancing the ecosystem. 

Fellow conservationist Vikash Tatayah considers Jones a hero for the environment.

"If Carl hadn't come in the 1970s", he said, "we most probably would have lost up to five bird species, a number of reptiles, a number of plants, and a number of islands would be reduced to rock or invasive plants and animals."

Take giant tortoises, for example. They eat plants, then defecate, which spreads the seeds from those plants to other areas. The plants provide nests for some bird species, which are now thriving. 

The cycle is in line with his conservation theory.

"Ecosystems are made of species. You work with species. It helps drive ecosystem restoration," Jones said.

So does education and Carl Jones is always ready to teach. He came to fatherhood later in life, which gave him a huge appreciation for passing on his beliefs to young people. 

He didn't think much of "legacy" early in his career, but now with his own family and the newest generation of Mauritians, he thinks about it quite a bit. To him, legacy is instilling the same sensibilities in others, who can go out and focus not on what Mauritius has lost over the decades, but to preserve what it still has.  

He wants them to know the most important basic truth about conservation: it never ends.

"People are waking up to the notion that their wildlife is very valuable", he said, "and something needs to be done to look after it."

Carl accepted the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2004, a high honor given by the British government for those who have served the British Empire. Mauritius is no longer controlled by the United Kingdom, but one of its decorated citizens is making a difference there today.

The Indianapolis Prize could make a difference in his efforts there as well, with an unrestricted $250,000 prize to be used as he sees fit to build and carry a legacy forward in one of the most ecologically important places left on Earth.