Albatross victim of hit-and-run

A parent of an albatross chick at the Princeville Golf Course under-went hours of surgery after a hit-and-run collision left the bird with a broken wing Friday. The adult male was run over by a dark sedan or coupe around 12:30 p.m., said Vera Niestemski, a Princeville resident who witnessed the accident.

“The car stopped, so I turned my attention to the bird, and when I went back to my car for towels, the car took off,” Niestemski said.

She said she was so distracted by the flailing bird, she didn’t get any information from the car. Niestemski called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service number posted on one of the signs around the chick’s nest, and biologist Brenda Zaun responded.

“The humerus, the upper-wing bone, was shattered,” Zaun said.

She and Niestemski and a few other people who stopped, helped cage the albatross for transport to Pegasus Veterinary Clinic in Moloa’a, where Scott Sims inserted several pins into the wing.

Sims said the break was as bad as he’s ever seen, and the bird has about a 20 percent chance of survival.

“If it can’t fly, it can’t live,” Zaun said.

Zaun said she will move the chick, who is still dependent on both parents for food, to a facility where a team of Japanese scientists are raising 10 albatross chicks.

Albatross mate for life and nest in the same area year after year, and Zaun hopes that the male will have made a full recovery in time to reunite with his mate when she returns in November to nest again.

The adult male Laysan albatross was estimated to be 18 years old or older. “He and his mate have nested in the Pepalani Loop area in past years. They formerly nested in the grassy field prior to the construction of condos. This year they moved across the street to nest,” said Zaun. “Their chick is about 11 weeks old.”

The accident has already drawn a lot of interest from area residents, who have watched the chick’s progress since it hatched in February.

“I’ve gone to see this bird ever since it was born,” Niestemski said. “This is like our little bird.”

Niestemski stressed that the car was not going very fast when it struck the albatross, but that its tire went right over the wing.

Zaun said the birds, which have six-foot wingspans, need the head-wind coming down Ka Haku Road to take off, and that it probably darted out into the road.

Sims said barring any tendon damage or other setbacks, the bird has about a one in five chance of flying again, after months of rehabilitation.

“We’re going to try it,” Zaun said. “So far it’s gone well, but we should know (if he will survive) in several weeks.”

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