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Conservationists Move to Protect ‘Alalā

October 5, 2020, 1:46 PM HST
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The ‘alalā, or Hawaiian crow, has faced threats to its population living in the Pu’u Maka`ala Natural Area Reserve (NAR) on Hawai‘i island.

In response to recent mortalities, including predation of the birds, mostly by ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), conservationists are bringing the remaining ‘alalā back from the wild into the conservation breeding program at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC).

Having successfully lived in the wild for 2-3 years, these birds have knowledge about foraging, predator avoidance, and other social behaviors that could be passed on to the birds residing within the conservation breeding program and aid with future recovery efforts.

“For the last three years, it has been encouraging to see the released birds transition to the wild; foraging, calling and flying in native forests,” said Jackie Gaudioso-Levita, a biologist with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the coordinator of The ‘Alalā Project.

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“It is important to ensure that these surviving ‘alalā are able to pass on the skills they have learned in the wild to future generations of the species. While very difficult, bringing these birds back into the breeding program is an interim step to the review and adaptation of the program to recover the species,” she added.

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ʻAlalā have been rare for much of the 20th century, with fewer than 100 birds remaining in the wild by the 1960s due to habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive mammalian predators, introduced diseases, and perhaps other unknown factors. ʻAlalā became extinct in the wild in 2002, preserved only at the KBCC and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG).

This conservation breeding population became the source for the reintroduction of ‘alalā beginning in 2016 to restored forests in the NAR. The reintroduced population, closely monitored by conservationists with DOFAW and the SDZG’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program, has survived for the last few years, even attempting to breed in the wild.

Recovering the ʻalalā in the wild will take many years. By working as partners and utilizing tools such as conservation breeding the road to recovery will be similar to the recovery of other reintroduced species.

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“We remain committed to this project and have always known that there would be some setbacks and challenges along the way. Fortunately, the project has an extremely knowledgeable, dedicated, and passionate team and we believe this level of care and consideration for the ‘alalā, will hopefully in time, see a re-establishment of a wild population,” said David Smith, administrator for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The recaptured birds will rejoin the population of more than 100 ‘alalā being cared for within the SDZG’s conservation breeding program.

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