11 Wild ʻAlalā Survive Hurricane Lane

August 30, 2018, 1:36 PM HST · Updated August 30, 1:36 PM
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11 Wild ʻAlalā Survive Hurricane Lane
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File photo. PC: Pacific Biosciences/ Pacbio

Eleven wild ʻAlalā, or native Hawaiian crows, have survived impacts of Hurricane Lane in their forest home in the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai‘i Island.

Dr. Alison Greggor, a post-doctoral research associate with the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program said the resilience of these ʻAlalā is encouraging after the forest area received more than 30 inches of rain.

Following Hurricane Lane’s impact on Hawai‘i island, staff from the San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program went into the field to asses the 11 ʻAlalā’s welfare.

“The Hawaiian forest is very resilient and, in that way, the ʻAlalā are also very resilient. Our team got out here as soon as it was safe, and they saw no ill effects on the birds. They weathered the storm very well,” said Dr. Greggor.

The critically endangered birds were the first to have been successfully released into the wild from conservation breeding facilities last fall as part of an effort to reintroduce the species.

Department of Land and Natural Resources staff also accessed the site as soon as it was safe to assess any damage to roads, infrastructure, and check the status of management actions. “Decades of intensive habitat management have made the reserve a unique ecosystem, home to some of the island’s rarest birds and plants,” said DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife Biologist, Jackie Gaudioso-Levita.

The ʻAlalā population’s survival raises the conservation team’s confidence and encourages their observance in the birds’ resilience. Following their introduction into the wild last fall, this small but hardy population of ʻAlalā have thrived in the forest for almost a year, including through one entire winter and now a hurricane.

Dr. Greggor explained that forest birds are especially susceptible to dangerous drops in temperature from prolonged exposure to rain and can see ill effects when their body temperatures fall too low. However, ʻAlalā are known to be highly intelligent creatures and the field team was thrilled that in spite of nearly three feet of rain over just four days, the birds remained unharmed.

“They survive very well in wet conditions and they’re able to fend for themselves. We’ve seen over time that the birds have gotten much better seeking shelter in the forest and finding natural nooks and crevices where they can hide from the rain,” said Dr. Greggor. This is encouraging news for a population size this small where a single storm can prove to be decimating.

The ʻAlalā Project is one of Hawai‘i’s most intensive and complex conservation breeding and reintroduction programs ever. Experts from state, federal, non-profit and private agencies and organizations have spent years rearing birds in conservation centers on the Big Island and Maui,  strategically planning their release back to the wild.

The ʻAlalā Project team plans to release ten others this coming Fall and dozens more ahead of them.  In addition to last year’s and this Fall’s upcoming release, the plan is to continue releasing birds into native forests for at least the next three years. Ultimately, the hope is for ʻAlalā in the wild to eventually breed successfully and re-establish their place in the ecosystem. The last wild ʻAlalā were seen more than 15 years ago in South Kona.

Dr. Greggor concluded, “Everyone working on this project is totally committed to its success, rain or shine. It’s so encouraging to see this first set of ʻAlalā in the wild continuing to do well…even after experiencing the impacts of a hurricane. We’ll continue doing everything humanly possible to be sure they and the others to follow in coming years have all the support they need to thrive and survive in their forest homes.”

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Click HERE for more information on The ʻAlalā Project.

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