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Hawaii endangered bird program halted after 9 die of illness

HONOLULU — The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project will halt the program after the deaths of nine endangered birds, officials said.

The decision to suspend the project at Haleakala National Park on Maui came after at least nine of 13 kiwikiu apparently succumbed to avian malaria, program scientists said.

Five captive and four wild birds died within a few weeks, some before they were released, while another bird was missing, officials said.

“The bottom underlying thing of all of this is, we’re losing the birds on the windward side” of the park, Project Coordinator Hanna Mounce said. “They are dying. They are going extinct, and there’s nothing we can do right now with the current tools that we have available to us to prevent that from happening.”

The kiwikiu is a yellow and olive-green Hawaiian honeycreeper with an estimated remaining population of up to about 300 birds. The species, also known as the Maui parrotbill, faces the threat of habitat destruction by humans and feral pigs, predators such as wild cats and mongooses and avian disease spread by mosquitoes, officials said.

The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project transported the kiwikiu to the Nakula Natural Area Reserve in Haleakala in hopes they would breed, officials said.

Scientists are hopeful for the survival of the four remaining birds in the park.

“Moving them to Nakula seems really risky and bold,” Mounce said. “But we’re hoping that’s going to give them a better chance when we know exactly what’s going to happen when we leave them on the windward side.”

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