Rescuing the Rarest

Emerald islands rimmed with golden sand jut from the vast blue ocean. From the air they look tiny and vulnerable, from the ground Hawaii feels like paradise. Both perspectives are correct. Hawaiian birds—many found nowhere else on Earth—face daunting pressures from habitat loss and introduced nonnative species like feral pigs and domestic cats. Thanks to our generous supporters, San Diego Zoo Global was able to partner with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife to create two bird propagation centers on the islands, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center and the Maui Bird Conservation Center, with bird releases and other fieldwork occurring at other field sites. Each day the staff is tasked with the challenge of how to restore precious avian gems from the unforgiving abyss of extinction. Since the 1990s, our program has been rescuing the rarest of the rare, buying time for local agencies to restore and manage the birds’ native habitat.

The ‘alala, or Hawaiian crow, was extinct in the wild in 2002, with only a small captive population serving as its safety net. The species was challenging to breed, with disappointing hatch and survival rates. But our patience and your support paid off, and by 2011 we had a record-breaking year, producing 19 healthy chicks and bringing the world’s ‘alala population up to 95 birds.

Another native species, the puaiohi, had dwindled to fewer than 300 birds in the 1990s. Through careful collecting of a few eggs from the wild, we have hatched more than 350 puaiohi and released 200 back into their native habitat, shoring up their population to 800 birds. The Hawaiian nene (pronounced nay-nay) has also benefited from our efforts and your support, and now numbers about 2,000 birds. These may not be songbirds, but these successes are worth singing about!

How We're Helping

The Hawaiian Islands may be paradise for humans, but native wildlife often faces severe pressures from loss of habitat and introduced nonnative species. Partnering with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, our Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has saved the ‘alala (or Hawaiian crow), puaiohi, and the nene (pronounced nay-nay) from certain extinction. Despite setbacks and challenges, these species now have some breathing room between themselves and extinction.

Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Iselle and Endangered Birds
When I found out that not just one, but two hurricanes were headed toward the Big Island of Hawaii, I was worried. Questions started running through my mind: “Are we going to lose power?” “How will the birds handle the hurricane?”

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