San Diego Zoo Global is raising six tiny nestlings at a facility in Hawai’i They represent hope for a small Hawaiian bird species known as the ‘akikiki. The Kaua’I Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP), State of Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service-Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office (USFWS-PIFWO)  and San Diego Zoo Global have banded together to begin a captive breeding program for this species.

Recently the team went into the wild to collect eggs from the nest of ‘akikiki and ‘akeke’e as part of a program to save this species from extinction.

Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager for San Diego Zoo Global said, “By bringing ‘akikiki and ‘akeke‘e into captivity for breeding purposes, we will prevent their extinction and support their future recovery by releasing captive-reared offspring into the wild in the future.”

“Both the ‘akikiki and ‘akeke‘e have shown steep declines over the past 10 to 15 years, and now number fewer than 1,000 birds each,” explained John Vetter, forest bird recovery coordinator of the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “A panel of experts in Hawaiian forest bird conservation convened to identify steps needed to preserve these species and ranked the initiation of captive breeding populations as one of the highest priorities for both species.”

'akikki

The ‘akikiki and ‘akeke’e are only found on the island of Kaua’i and are a variety of Hawaiian honeycreeper. They have been declining massively as a result of avian malaria, habitat loss, hurricanes and the introduction of predators.

Conservations working with the species have successfully bred a number of species and are using similar techniques to ensure that these species thrive.

It wasn’t easy to find these chicks as Dr. Lisa “Cali” Crampton, KFBRP project leader explained, “Since early March, KFBRP team members have spent hundreds of hours searching the dense rain forests of Kauai’s ‘Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve for the cryptic nests of these two rare species. Both nest on tiny branches at the top of the canopy, about 30 to 40 feet high, and camouflage their nests as clumps of moss. To reach the nests, KFBRP devised a suspension system for a 40-foot extension ladder.”

The team hiked and helicoptered the eggs back to the breeding facility for artificial incubation. So far six have hatched and are doing well under the care of the staff. They will keeping working over the breeding season to ensure the program is a success.

Most of the funding for the project came from the USFWS-PIFWO with a grant from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fun also helping to make it a success.

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo

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