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Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center honored for service: 3,000 birds and a lifetime of dedication

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VC: Hawaiʻi DLNR

The Hawai‘i Wildlife Center was honored on Friday with an award from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for its 10 years of service and dedication to care of native birds and wildlife.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, presented HWC with a DLNR & YOU Citizen Conservationist Award for their professional efforts, which currently include the treatment of 20-30 patients on any given day. Many of the injured birds and bats that arrive were hurt by things people created, like golf balls, power lines, cars, guns, and poisons. Add cats, dogs, mongoose, and rats to the long list of things that threaten both forest birds and seabirds. 

“Though the wildlife center is on Hawai‘i Island, injured birds come from all the other main islands. Each year, from O‘ahu alone, HWC responds to 600-700 Wedgetail shearwaters, with those needing longer-term care being flown to the main Kap‘au facility for assessments, rehabilitation if necessary, and release,” Case said.  

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More than a decade ago, HWC President and Founder Linda Elliott became concerned Hawai‘i was the only state in the country without a wildlife response center for downed birds. “Here we were, working in the endangered species capitol of the world and we lacked a care resource for our native wildlife. In the 1990’s it became my mission to fill this need. Now ten years after opening, we have treated 3,000 feathery patients, and a few bats.” 

Hawai‘i Wildlife Center (July 20, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi

Right now, and through mid-December is the time of year when shearwaters are downed. Demonstrating the center’s statewide reach and influence, Elliott said, “The shearwater fall-out season keeps us really busy, as does the manu-o-Kū program in urban Honolulu. Also known as white or fairy terns, orphans that can’t be returned to their nests, are flown to us and then in partnership with the Honolulu Zoo, we do a soft release,” Elliott explained. 

The stories of treatment, care, rehabilitation, and hopefully release are boundless. In August, HWC veterinarian Dr. Juan Guerra joined Raymond McGuire of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to release a pair of nēnē (native Hawaiian geese) into the Hawai‘i Island 

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Nene Sanctuary. 

Hawai‘i Island Nēnē Sanctuary releases (Aug. 5, 2022). PC: Hawaiʻi DLNR

“Our ultimate goal is to get birds back out in the wild. Each time we release birds it’s a renewal to my spirit. We have good days and bad days at the center. Some days we have to help a bird by ending their suffering. Other days we get to experience the triumph of release,” Dr. Guerra commented.  

McGuire added, “Even with nēnē that have been through rehab, whether it was a golf ball strike to a leg, or an injured or amputated wing…in which case they’d have to be euthanized…we’re lucky to have the combination of HWC’s hospital and DOFAW’s predator-proof sanctuary where birds can be released to safely live out their lives in their natural habitat.” 

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HWC President Elliott notes that last year 88% of the birds and bats the center cared for, were either released or are in permanent care. “In wildlife rehabilitation, typically success rates can be around 50%. It depends on the health of the animal. The sooner it’s found, the sooner we get it into care, the better the prognosis.” 

In addition to the hospital building and visitor information exhibits, the grounds have numerous aviaries. In one is three-year-old Maka‘io, a native Hawaiian hawk (i‘o). He arrived at HWC with an eye injury and a wing injury. The wing healed, but he’s blind in the right eye. 

Hawai‘i Wildlife Center (July 20, 2022). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.

Dr. Guerra explained, “This bird can fly. Birds of prey, like ‘io, need to have binocular vision so they don’t miss. They don’t do well in the wild if they can’t see with both eyes.” 

He exercises Maka‘io daily to prepare him for moving into his own aviary in the future, where thanks to his training with the good doctor, he’ll be able to fly wherever he wants. “We want to provide him the best life possible and as much opportunity to make his own choices,” Guerra said. 

“That is the overriding philosophy and result of everything the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center does,” Chair Case commented. “We are proud to have them as partners in the vital work of caring for our native wildlife.” 

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