Aviculture and Conservation: The Peregrine Fund's Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program


Gassy photographs of jungle deforestation in the Amazon and giant pandas calmly chewing bamboo leaves in their misty mountain home, conjure up images of endangered species and conservation issues in exotic places far, far from home. But, in reality, one of the biggest environmental battles is being fought much closer to home-in our fiftieth state-Hawai'i. Aviculture is helping to provide the conservation tools necessary to preserve some of the rarest and most spectacular birds in the world.

There is indeed trouble in paradise.

Many bird, plant and insect species in this tropical Eden are rapidly disappearing. Hawai'i has the highest percentage of endemic plant and animal species in the world, and is home to more than one-third of the endangered species currently listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the United States. Of the approximately 140 species of native birds that inhabited the Hawaiian Islands at the time of the first Polynesian settlers, at least 70 are now extinct and 30 more are endangered, including 12 that are dangerously close to extinction (Pyle, 1990, 1992). Perhaps more alarming is that even the most common species are declining. For example, the Iiwi, Vestiariacoccinea, once so abundant, may no longer survive on west Maui, Lanai or Oahu (Ellis et al., 1992). The factors limiting survival of these species in the wild are poorly understood, but are believed to include the lack of immunity to introduced diseases, habitat alteration, and predation and competition with introduced species. For nearly all of Hawai'i's forest birds, captive propagation and other hands-


on management techniques may be the only way to save the species, while factors causing decline are identified and controlled. Sufficient numbers need to be built up in captivity to enable researchers to gather basic information on the birds biology and to enable future reintroductions into the wild.

The 'Alala Corvus banaiiensis, a frugivorous/insectivorous, forest dwelling corvid (family of crows, ravens and magpies), once inhabited large forested areas on the island of Hawai'i. But the species has been declining for many years, and prior to the 1993 breeding season, only a remnant population of approximately 11 birds remained (Giffin et al, 1987). Wild breeding pairs have not produced a chick which has survived to adulthood in recent years (Kuehler and Shannon, 1994 ).

In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) requested the National Academy of Sciences to assess the situation and recommend a course of action to conserve the 'Alala. This scientific panel reviewed the available data regarding the status of the species in the wild and the possible causes of decline. The committee recommended egg removal from wild birds for artificial incubation, hand-rearing and release (Duck-worth et al., 1992). Artificial incubation of eggs removed from the wild and hand-rearing of chicks are avicultural techniques which have been incorporated into the overall recovery strategy for endangered species such as the Mauritius Kestrel, Falco punc-tatus, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, the San Clemente Island Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi and


the California Condor Gymnogyps californianus, (Sherrod et al., 1981; Cade et al., 1988;Jonesetal., 1991;Kuehler et al., 1993; Kuehler and Witman 1988). Successful techniques fo; hatching and rearing endangered bird species are essential elements of these recovery plans (Kuehler and Good, 1990).

In 199 3, the Service requested The Peregrine Fund (TPF) to initiate a prototype restoration program for the 'Alala Corvus bamaiiensis, in collaboration with private land-owners, National Biological Survey (NBS) biologists, Service biologists and the Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD), (Harrity, et al., 1993). Eggs were removed from wild nesting pairs for artificial rearing and reintroduction. To date, seventeen eggs have been removed from' Alala nests in the wild. Three of these were infertile, one egg fertile but a malposition, thirteen chicks hatched and twelve 'Alala were successfully reared (Hatchability: 93%, Survivability: 92%). Four of these chicks have been sent to The Olinda Endangered Species Facility ( OESPF) managed by the State of Hawai'i, for future captive breeding, and four 'Alala chicks reared at OESPF have been transferred to TPF's release facility. Five young 'Alala were released in 1993, and seven more chicks were released in 1994. This totals twelve 'Alala released-all as a result of captive management efforts in 1993 and 1994.





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