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Next Steps in ʻAlalā Recovery Include Maui Nui, ‘Io Research

April 2, 2021, 7:40 AM HST
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The species recovery effort, known as The ʻAlalā Project, on Hawai‘i Island continues, and experts are exploring the potential for Maui Nui to serve as an additional release site for ʻalalā (Hawaiian crow).

Predation by ‘io (Hawaiian hawk) has been a major challenge to Hawai‘i Island releases, but ‘io are not present on Maui Nui, providing an opportunity for conversationalists to better understand how ʻalalā can live in a forest where ‘io are not present. Additionally, while ʻalalā were historically known to inhabit forests on Hawaiʻi Island, there is subfossil evidence that ʻalalā or a similar species once existed on Maui.

“We have forests that are similar to the forest on Hawai‘i Island where ʻalalā were released. There are abundant food resources in our Maui Nui forests; abundant trees that would be suitable for nesting platforms. And we do not have the ʻio predation risk, because we don’t have ‘io here” said Fern Duvall, the Maui Nui program manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) Native Ecosystems Protection and Management Program.

The first steps in consideration of a reintroduction of ʻalalā to Maui Nui would be a careful review and assessment of potential sites for releases. In the coming months, The ʻAlalā Project will be reaching out to conservation partners and community members within Maui Nui to evaluate habitat suitability and support for future releases.

In response to mortality rates of the released ʻalalā, including predation by ‘io, conservationists brought the remaining birds from the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, on Hawaiʻi Island, back in from the wild last October. They were returned to the conservation breeding program at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.

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Released between 2016 and 2019 and having lived in the wild for two to three years, these five birds gained knowledge about foraging, predator avoidance, pair bonding, and other social behaviors that could be passed on to the birds residing within the conservation breeding program and aid with future recovery efforts.

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“The partners of The ʻAlalā Project will keep the momentum of Hawaiʻi Island ʻalalā release planning going, as potential release areas undergo supportive habitat management and infrastructure preparations,” said Jackie Gaudioso, a wildlife biologist with DOFAW and coordinator for the ʻAlalā Project. “While self-sustaining populations of ‘alalā on Hawai‘i Island are necessary for the long-term recovery of the species, understanding ʻio behaviors and movements is crucial before we pursue future Hawaiʻi Island releases.”

Hawaiian hawk (ʻio) research will also be conducted at the previous and at additional potential release areas on Hawaiʻi Island over the next few years to inform future Hawai‘i Island releases and to support release implementation. The research topics include species’ distribution, movements, and monitoring the behaviors of individuals.

“We are excited to move forward with the next steps for the recovery of ʻalalā together with the community,” said Bryce Masuda, Conservation Program Manager of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “As we have seen with the recovery of other endangered species, successful programs must problem solve – incorporating new strategies and applying science to achieve thriving populations of wildlife.”

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