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‘Alalā Preparing for Life in Hawaiian Forest

November 21, 2016, 9:00 AM HST (Updated November 21, 2016, 11:43 AM) · 0 Comments
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VIDEO: Young ‘alalā youngsters at Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai‘i Island the are being fed by staff from the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

The five male birds living in an aviary at the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai‘i Island are adjusting well to their new environment, according to animal care staff of the San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

The birds were moved to the aviary in mid-October to allow them to acclimate to the sights and sounds of a Hawaiian forest. The reserve is an area that conservationists have worked to preserve, protecting native plants and species, and represents the type of habitat ‘alalā were originally native to before they began to decline.

“Decades of intensive management by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, in stewardship with local conservation partners, have led to the preservation of some of the most intact native-dominated wet and mesic forest on windward Hawai‘i Island, known as Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve,” said Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, project coordinator of the ‘Alalā Project.

‘Alalā are an important part of the life of the Hawaiian forest, eating and assisting with the dispersal of native plant seeds. The reintroduction of this species, gone from the forest for more than a decade, is expected to be an important part of the overall recovery of the ecosystem.

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“This reserve is the highest quality habitat and is the best place on the island of Hawai`i for the reintroduction of the ‘alalā,” said Donna Ball, Conservation Partnerships biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve has all the components for the survival of this species and soon it will also have the ‘alalā, a missing species of the ecosystem that has returned.”

The ‘alalā, or Hawaiian crow, has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global. With more than 100 individuals of the species now preserved at the centers, conservationists are ready to put them back into their native forests.

Although it was hoped to release the birds this month, the release was unexpectedly and cautiously postponed to ensure the transmitters that will track the birds could be properly refined.

“‘Alalā are very intelligent and precocious birds and are inclined to play with and manipulate new items, so our ability to observe their behaviors closely and give them more time allows us to make adjustments to the tracking systems we will be using once they are released,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “It is important for us to track these birds once they go out into the forest so that we can continue to support them as they explore their new home.”

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents.

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