ʻAlalā Project Plans Further Releases After Bird Deaths
Reintroduction efforts for the ʻAlalā, the native Hawaiian crow, began in December of last year with the release of five ʻAlalā into a Hawai‘i Island State Natural Area Reserve. Sadly, three birds did not survive, and the remaining two were brought back into captivity.
Members of The ‘Alalā Project say that the reintroduction of captive-raised birds without the benefit of experienced ‘Alalā already in the wild is very challenging.
Biologists around the world say releases like this are usually marked with fits and starts, and that reintroduction success is not usually seen before multiple releases.
Nēnē, the native Hawaiian goose, once had a population of only 30 birds and was part of a captive breeding program. “The recovery of Nēnē took over five decades of conservation actions to achieve, and while there are now over 3,000 birds in the wild, Nēnē populations still require active management to persist,” said Joey Mello, Hawai’i Branch DOFAW Wildlife Program Manager in East Hawai’i.
Despite the temporary setback, preparations are underway for the release of the next group of ‘Alalā. Nine birds are now in a flight aviary that was constructed in the State’s Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve; three more birds will be moved there soon.
All of these birds are healthy and are checked and fed daily. Project team members closely observe their foraging skills, behaviors, and social interactions. The ‘Alalā Project anticipates the release of these 12 birds later this year.
Necropsies on the three ‘Alalā released last December indicate that none of the crows died due to disease exposure. Necropsy results indicate that two of the birds were likely killed by another endangered bird, the ‘Io or native Hawaiian hawk. ‘Io are known to prey upon other birds – such is the circle of life in the wild. The third bird appears to have died from natural circumstances that led to poor physical condition.
Prior to any release, candidate birds undergo extensive training and conditioning to best ensure their long-term survival in the forest. This includes predator aversion training. The project team has consulted with world-renown predator aversion training specialists and is now focusing on making improvements to that training to give the released ‘Alalā a better chance of avoiding ‘Io.
The three ‘Alalā that died were named ‘Ike, Kau’ikauikalani, and Pewa. The necropsies were conducted by the San Diego Zoo Global, which operates Hawaiʻi bird conservation centers on Hawai‘i Island and on Maui.
The ‘Alalā were offspring of birds brought into captivity over a decade ago, around the time that the last remaining bird went extinct in the wild in 2002.
The ‘Alalā Project is comprised of more than a half dozen state and federal agencies, non-government agencies, and private landowners, that collectively and successfully have hatched more than 200 ‘Alalā at the SDZG bird conservation centers. The ‘Alalā Project is just one of many projects across the state committed to native species conservation.