Rare Kaua‘i bird bred at San Diego Zoo

In Kilauea, Japanese researchers are hand-raising Laysan albatrosses in an experiment to see if a rare species in Japan may survive relocation.

In San Diego, another set of researchers is rejoicing about the potential preservation of a native Kaua‘i bird thought to be left in the wild only in the Alaka‘i Swamp area above Koke‘e State Park.

The 200th hatching of a puaiohi, at the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaiian bird-breeding center, is a milestone that renews optimism for the fate of this critically endangered bird species native to Kaua‘i, zoo officials said in a press release.

Of those 200, over 110 have been released into the wild in the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve.

The birds, representing a species that is believed to number fewer than 500, have been part of a breeding program since 1996, when the first captive hatching of a wild egg took place.

The breeding and release program is part of a collaborative effort undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the San Diego Zoo, to build a sustainable population of these birds in the wild.

“Reaching this milestone is significant on many levels but, most importantly, it is a clear demonstration of how a propagation program can help forestall extinction and can hopefully help to recover endangered species,” said Alan Lieberman, director of the zoo’s propagation efforts in Hawai‘i.

“The true test for any recovery program, however, will be the integration of these captive birds into a comprehensive recovery effort in the native habitat. This will require that all the recovery partners reach their respective milestones,” he said.

The puaiohi, also known as the small Kaua‘i thrush, is a small songbird that has been reduced to a single relict population in the wet forest of the Alaka‘i Wilderness Preserve.

Habitat degradation caused by feral ungulates (goats and pigs) and invasive alien plants, and the joint threats from introduced predators and diseases, are thought to be contributing factors in the decline of this species, he explained.

More than half of Hawai‘i’s surviving songbirds are listed as endangered by the state and federal governments

Puaiohi are released into the wild of the Alaka‘i Swamp after they are flown from San Diego to Lihu‘e Airport, then transported by truck or van to the release site.

At the release site, they are placed in an aviary, where they spend seven to 10 days adjusting to the environment. More than 110 puaiohi have been released into the wild since the program started in 1996.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

The service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special-management areas.

It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations.

The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts.

It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

The Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a part of the San Diego Zoo’s Department of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species.

CRES, operated by the not-for-profit Zoological Society of San Diego, is working to establish field stations in five key ecological areas internationally, and participates in conservation and research work around the globe.

The Zoological Society of San Diego also manages the 100-acre San Diego Zoo and the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park (more than half of which has been set aside as protected-native-species habitat).

For more information, see www.sandiegozoo.org.


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