Prospects and Potential for Saving Hawaiian Forest Birds: An Interview

posted in: January 2010 | 0

Last month, Environment Hawai`i sat down with three of the editors of Conservation Biology of Hawaiian Forest Birds: Implications for Island Avifauna, to discuss issues raised in the book (published in November by Yale University Press). Here are excerpts from that interview, conducted by Patricia Tummons, with Thane Pratt, Paul Banko, and Carter Atkinson.

EH: You state in the book: “Conserving bird populations across broad areas is not only pivotal to their own survival, but also bears on other aspects of conservation, for birds are central to many aspects of ecosystem function.” I think, however, many people see birds as almost an aesthetic amenity – bird songs, pretty birds flitting around. And that view might lead one to regard birds as non-essential, so that when it comes to a discussion of budgets, where to put our priorities, birds get short shrift – especially when you may have only a few dozen birds in the wild. How important can Hawaiian forest birds really be?

Paul Banko: Let me start with an example of the role of birds in ecosystems. I think the `alala is one of the better ones, because as a disperser of large seeds, that’s all we have now. Of course, earlier there were even larger corvids dispersing large seeds, and now we don’t even have `alala in the wild anymore. So who’s dispersing the large seeds? Well, basically nobody, so that’s a huge ecosystem consequence, when seed dispersers drop out of the picture, become rare and endangered. `Oma`o and other birds are also dispersing seeds, but, again, as an example, that large seed dispersing role is vacant and probably will go vacant for some time to come.

So that, in my mind is one of the pivotal roles birds play in the ecosystem, getting seeds out there and affecting very dramatically forest structure and composition.

Thane Pratt: Native birds are very much tied in to the pollination of plants. In the book, we make the point that prior to the arrival of people, there were no mammals or reptiles. Birds were the main vertebrate group here, and they were really abundant. When you go to the higher elevations in Hawai`i, you still find native birds abundant.

And because they were so abundant, they became tightly linked to various ecosystem functions and to the evolution of plants and animals in those ecosystems. For instance, if you go to high elevation forests on Maui, you find almost all of the woody plants are pollinated by birds, and this is remarkable, because some of the flowers are very tiny and they don’t look like the kinds of flowers that are typically pollinated by birds – they aren’t large and bright red, and they don’t necessarily have a lot of nectar to offer. Nevertheless, the birds use them.

Some studies by evolutionary biologists have been able to demonstrate that in fact there’s been an adaptive shift on the part of certain plants away from insect pollination and towards bird pollination. The same thing has happened with seed dispersal. There are some plants in Hawai`i that arrived here with woody capsules that eventually evolved fleshy fruits. This is theoretically a hard thing to do, but they’ve done it, and the reason why is because the old-time ecosystems were packed full of birds. The birds were able to help the plants out with their reproduction.

These are some of the things to regard when we think of Hawaiian birds, besides the fact that they’re beautiful and we rejoice in their songs, they play a role in the ecosystems. We have today many species of plants that are endangered and some of them are not either being pollinated or having seeds dispersed as they did in former times, and the reason for this is that bird numbers are a lot less than what they used to be.

EH: So it’s having an effect on the composition of the forest?

Pratt: I don’t know if people have studied that so much. People are just now starting to look into these kinds of interactions. We’re starting to see now some of the first studies coming out looking at the reproductive ecology of plants, why certain plant populations are limited. We’re now starting to find where the weak links are in the system. Why are certain trees not reproducing? For instance, loulu palms have large fruits and large seeds. Presumably something ate them in the old days. Nothing eats them now and spreads them around. It might have been `alala. We’ve only been able to study `alala where they were found recently. They used to be in other ecosystems, down along the coast, where they interacted with other plants.

Banko: Pollination and seed dispersal tremendously affect the life history of individual plant species and community composition, vegetation community structure. But the birds also, especially the honeycreepers, evolved dramatic bill shapes. Many of these were for extracting insects from different kinds of substrates, different situations. So they clearly would have also been an important driver of insect and spider evolution, too. There’s the whole business of crypsis – be drab, be under bark, be hidden away, otherwise you get picked up by a bird.

This is actually something that’s hard to study, hard to really make a strong, direct link, but clearly, just the extraordinary range of bill sizes, many of which were designed to get obscure hiding insects out of holes and leaf axils and so forth, indicates to me that there was a really powerful kind of pressure that birds were exerting as consumers – they’re just the ultimate consumer of high caloric demands. They’re going for fruits and seeds and nectar and insects – and insects particularly during the rearing of young.

Caterpillars spring to mind as the single most important bird food, not the only one, by any means, but that’s the currency you need to bring up offspring, generally speaking. There are other things, too, but caterpillars are a food source that’s hard to beat.

For almost all the bird species that R.C.L. Perkins knew, he says, well, caterpillars, spiders, these are really critical foods for young birds. So you can imagine during breeding seasons the tremendous pressure parent birds are under to feed these gaping mouths caterpillars and spiders and everything else. This certainly had some sort of impact on the arthropod communities. What exactly we’re not sure, but we know there were no insects just lying out in broad daylight. Not for long.

EH: You say in the book that conservation restoration needs to occur over large areas to be meaningful. Also, conservation and game management areas need to be physically separated. What is the likelihood of this occurring in Hawai`i?

Pratt: I think we are starting increasingly to see this happen. In the creation of the national parks and the private reserves, the Nature Conservancy reserves, there are areas being set aside where animals are being removed. The state, of course, has its Natural Area Reserve System, and animals are removed from some of those reserves. But on the whole, the game animals remain primarily on state and certain private lands.

Carter Atkinson: There’s been a lot of progress made in the 15-20 years I’ve been here.

Pratt: We try to show some of this in the chapter on protecting forest bird populations across landscapes. But the percentage of lands that are truly protected, on-the-ground protected, where the fences have gone up and the animals removed, is proportionately very small.

Banko: It’s a hard subject to penetrate. But I would imagine, if we could look 200 years forward, and say how many people will really be strongly interested in hunting pigs, versus how many people really want to go and see the last `apapane population, or whatever’s left, I would think more people would rather go see the birds than go hunting. I don’t have any thing to back this up, like a survey that shows declining hunting interest. However, my impression, in the time I’ve been here, since high school days, is that there’s just less interest in hunting generally.

Pratt: There’s been a trend, of course, toward the protection of areas that are most intact in terms of their native biota. And those areas that have the most endangered birds. Those are the areas that get worked on first. The areas that have the least amount of native biota aren’t as high priority for conservation. It’s those latter areas that you could foresee in the future would ultimately hold the game mammal populations. Those areas are typically at lower elevation, and are overrun with weeds – strawberry guava and worse. At what point can those lands truly be restored? It’d be just an enormous amount of work. Why bother to tackle those areas when in fact there are these better areas, that are much higher priority and hold so much more, that have fewer weeds, and where ungulate populations are manageable. Those are the areas that get prioritized.

So you see this form of different land use slowly evolving.

EH: On the subject of weeds, certainly you are all aware of how controversial the proposed introduction of the biocontrol agent for strawberry guava has been. Yet it seems like, for landscape-scale restoration, biocontrol of waiwi and maybe albizia and maybe miconia – and who knows what is yet to arrive – is really essential. It can’t be done without biocontrol. What can be done to tie the conservation of Hawaiian forest birds to the need for biocontrol as part of restoration or conservation of habitat?

Banko: I think it is critical to do this. You mention plant pests, but most of the biocontrol in Hawai`i was directed to insect pests, which is a very different kind of category to defend against, and to find effective agents to work against. Historically, Hawai`i, California, and Australia were the proving grounds for biocontrol worldwide. That effort extends back more than 100 years. Many of the agents were highly effective in terms of what their goals were, but Perkins himself, early on in the game, was concerned that many of the parasitoid wasps that were being introduced for caterpillar control in sugar cane fields had escaped into the native forests. He pondered what the consequence of that would be.

That was then, and this is now. The science of biocontrol is so much more advanced, and there are so many, many mistakes that people have the advantage of learning from – oh, don’t bring in generalists to kill your pests, because they’ll very likely go to non-target hosts, and so forth. So in my mind, it’s a whole different game now.
There are reasons to be cautious, of course, but I think all the appropriate measures are in place to test things against non-target hosts. That’s not to say it’s fool-proof, but the benefits of biocontrol far outweigh the risks. But it really is a very expensive enterprise, and so a lot of agencies simply are not geared up to dive into it.

EH: But the expenses are up front. It’s not like, say, ongoing maintenance of a fence.

Pratt: That’s right. These are the hardest things for conservation to fund. If you’re concerned about saving Hawaiian forest birds, you have to protect their habitat on a large scale from weeds and invasion from new weeds or other kinds of animals that would prey on birds, or diseases.

But it’s the prevention aspect and the biocontrol aspect that are the hardest to get funding for if you’re focused on just one group of animals or one group of plants. People think of bird conservation in terms of, say, planting a pasture with trees so the birds will have more habitat and they’ll move in. They think of bird conservation as protecting nests from predators. They think of bird conservation in the sense of, say, moving `akis to some new restored habitat – sort of hands-on, direct management of a bird population.

We don’t, however, tend to really make the big leap between protecting birds from threats that either could be or in fact are out there that are hard to control. And, certainly, plants like strawberry guava and miconia could completely transform the forest habitat of these birds and eliminate them all by themselves. They are really very major threats.

You have to approach those threats from the standpoint of protecting the entire biota and the entire ecosystem.

When we first conceived of the book, there were a few topics that at first we left out, and then we realized, no, we have to put them in. So there’s a chapter in the book by Lloyd Loope and Fred Kraus on how to prevent the establishment of more alien species. This is really in a sense the hardest thing to do – to stop people from bringing stuff in. But it’s one of the most important things, and certainly one of the most cost-effective. By the time miconia gets out there, and you want to clear the Big Island of miconia, or waiwi, that’s fabulously expensive. To stop the thing from coming in in the first place is less expensive.

But some of these early-stage preventative measures are the hardest to implement, because at the root, it’s causing people to have to change their behavior, their habits.

EH: You talk about the disparity in funding for mainland versus Hawaiian endangered birds. How can this be addressed? Is there lobbying by bird groups, or conservation groups, or some way to get Hawai`i’s congressional delegation to appreciate more the need for bird conservation?

Banko: Last year, the State of the Birds report came out, and that’s potentially a turning point. There have been several such reports over the last, say, 30 years, and this is the most recent one. When mainland interests in Hawaiian birds bring the issue to national attention, as they can, we do get an increase in funding, at least a little bit. But it’s still just way, way, way below what’s needed. We’re still dealing with symbolic amounts of funding for rescuing anything.

A case in point is the palila. We kind of cracked the list of the top 25 endangered birds for federal funding because palila has gotten funds through Saddle Road mitigation. Now that that’s basically spent out, we’re going to be dropping rapidly back down to wherever – maybe 47th or whatever. `Alala will probably remain relatively high by Hawaiian bird standards for a while.

EH: That’s because of captive propagation?

Banko: Yes. It’s very expensive. It kind of depends on how you count the dollars, too, because, for example, take the Kona unit of the Hakalau refuge. That was established primarily to help `alala, but there’s lots of other things, too. It’s kind of hard to make it all just tie in species by species. Nonetheless, as Dave Leonard points out in the chapter he wrote, Hawai`i is disadvantaged because we don’t have neighboring states who share bird species with which we can combine forces. So both congressionally and in terms of how the agencies can operate, we’re just out here on our own, trying to do it.

Pratt: There are some really very fundamental things that have contributed to Hawaiian birds not receiving the attention that they deserve. The American bird-watching public, in toto, really doesn’t have Hawaiian birds up on their radar screen. For many years, Hawai`i has not been included in American field guides or on the American Birding Association checklist. Without people seeing these birds in their field guides, being exposed to them on a day-to-day basis in their literature, they haven’t become familiar with them, and without becoming familiar with them, they can’t educate themselves about them and become concerned and care about them.

One of the things that has been so interesting to me is to talk to my age peers about Hawaiian birds. I’m in my late fifties, but I remember as an excited 12-year-old, getting my first bird book, Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to American Birds. I got my copy on my first visit to the mainland, and I was just thrilled. It had all the mainland birds in it, but at the very back, on two plates, it had all the Hawaiian birds. So everything was there. Absolutely everything. This was just wonderful. And I was able to learn my birds that way.

If you talk to Rob Fleischer or Doug Pratt, who grew up on the mainland, they had the same experience. They got their Roger Tory Peterson field guide. They learned their mainland birds, and in addition, they learned Hawaiian birds. And having the Hawaiian birds in there got them curious and then inspired them to work on Hawaiian birds.

This came home to me as a revelation when I went to the American Ornithological Union meetings two years ago. Rob Fleischer gave a plenary address on Hawaiian birds. He started out by holding up his now much frayed and battered copy of Roger Tory Peterson field guide to the birds of western North America and said, “This is how I got interested in Hawaiian birds.”

I think if we could get the Hawaiian birds back into American field guides, there would be more Rob Fleischers and Doug Pratts out here working on Hawaiian birds. And we do need help from the mainland. There’s no question about it. This is where the vast majority of our funding comes from. We really need to have a much higher profile for Hawaiian birds.

EH: But Hawai`i does get lots of money for endangered sea turtles through the Department of Commerce, most of which comes by way of earmarks through Senator Inouye’s office. Why is it that birds are so disadvantaged with respect to the attention of the Hawai`i congressional delegation?

Pratt: If an endangered species gets involved in an economic conflict, it gets attention. The fact that we have turtles on our beaches, and they interact with the public, and they’ve gotten tangled up in the fisheries has meant increased attention and funding. We only have two Hawaiian birds that have had that. One is the `alala, the other is the palila. It was because of the Saddle Road that the palila got all the funding that it did and moved into the top 20 list. But for the most part, our birds are tucked away back in the forest, and they can do pretty much as they please without having much impact on anybody.

EH: When it comes to conservation of habitat, climate change seems to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, affecting nearly every aspect of management and conservation. To take one example, there’s the expected climb up the mountain of warmer temperatures, making it all the more important to control the spread of mosquitoes and prevent the introduction of new species of mosquitoes that are more tolerant of the cold.

Atkinson: The bigger issue is cold-temperature-adapted parasites. You can have mosquitoes that are adapted to cold temperatures but the malaria parasite can’t develop in them. Still, if the cold-temperature tolerant mosquitoes became established, they would be in place for other diseases to transmit that are more cold-tolerant, such as West Nile Virus and other things.

And, with warmer temperatures at higher elevation, you would, of course, have increasing range of the malarial parasite.

EH: You also discuss how limiting the spread of mosquitoes is so much related to maintaining an intact forest, where you don’t have water collecting in the holes of tree ferns knocked down by pigs, or wallows dug out by them. So this would entail ungulate management, too.

Atkinson: Especially on this island [Hawai`i]. The relationship breaks down a little bit when you get to the older islands, where you have a lot of streams. We’ve found that stream margins can be sources of mosquitoes.

EH: Is there anything else to be done to address climate change, so far as habitat management goes?

Banko: There’s actually quite a lot. But overall, climate change poses additional challenges for all the species. Yet, if we can be effective at reducing some of the existing threats, that’s the best we can do. For example, we don’t have any remedy, realistically, to say, okay, there’s going to be no more disease because we’ve magically found a way to eliminate mosquitoes. The technology for reducing rat predation is improving, registration for rat toxicants to be applied aerially is advancing, slowly, but it’s at a point where, certainly, in the next five or ten years, I would expect that to be a readily available and cost-effective management tool in Hawai`i, over large areas.

My thought is that, if a new threat emerges or an existing threat increases, and you can’t effectively do anything about it at least in the short term, the best thing to do is hit predation or improve habitat quality even more than you are already doing and bolster the population of birds that way. It’s kind of a game of compensation. If factor X becomes prevalent, and you can’t do anything about it, then clobber factor Y, because there are multiple factors in probably every case.

And it doesn’t mean necessarily that if you hit factor Y, that will compensate entirely for the increase in factor X, but what else can you do if you have no tool in hand to deal with climate change?

So to me, improving habitat and reducing predation become even more important as we see climate changing or new diseases come in or they move up higher on the mountain. It is just all the more critical to manage the habitat without ungulates, without rats, cats, and so forth.

EH: Has any thought been given to expanding bird habitat elevationally?

Pratt: Sure. There has to be strategic planning for the protection of bird habitat, realizing that high elevations are where the birds are going to persist, and improving those habitats. If the climate does become drier, then there will be a shift away from, say, wet forest towards mesic forest, or where there’s mesic forest, from mesic forest to dry forest. And birds can exist in those kinds of forests.

EH: For example, above palila habitat, on the southwestern slopes of Mauna Kea, there have been outplantings of mamane. Is more of that envisioned or thought about as a long-term possibility on the eastern side of Mauna Kea?

Banko: Hypothetically, yes. I think the limits to mamane in terms of elevation are untested. I suspect that if you planted mamane at 11,000 feet, it’d probably do fine. In the case of palila, you probably can expand the forest upward. But logistically, that may not be so feasible. We’ve roughly calculated that about a million mamane trees are what are sustaining the current population of palila on the southwestern slope. That’s a lot of trees. To increase habitat upward would require presumably millions of trees, especially if you’re talking about the whole mountain.

Nonetheless, that’s something that shouldn’t be just avoided as a long-term kind of approach, because I think the climate is affecting palila even now. It’s more of a feeling than a direct observation, but it’s been very dry and when it’s dry, mamane just does not produce very many pods, and that’s critical for palila.

So there are really only a few options. One is plant way more trees in the existing range. Two is plant higher up on the slopes and hope that it helps in the long run. Three is potentially to go look harder at what other kinds of food resources palila could exist on. They used to exist in coastal habitats, which it’s hard to imagine were dominated by mamane. Maybe we’re just not trying enough other, alternative foods. In their existing habitats, sandalwood is one that might be a useful alternative, if mamane is just not going to ever produce enough pods to keep the whole population going, but there are other things to try as well.

Pratt: Paul brought up a really good point. Climate change is not going to affect all species equally. Climate change is going to affect all islands, to be sure, but certain species are going to be impacted much more by it than others, and palila is a good example of that.

As it is now, most kinds of Hawaiian birds are found only on one island. There are only a few kinds of Hawaiian forest birds that are found on more than one island – apapane, i`iwi, amakihi. All the rest are found on only one island. Some islands, the low islands, are going to be more affected by climate change than the high islands, because there is less altitudinal room to move.

Right now, the island bird fauna that is most threatened is on Kaua`i, because the island is only 5,000 feet high and the birds are restricted to the small plateau up there. In my lifetime, we’ve lost four or five species of birds from Kaua`i over a very short time, just over a couple of decades. Conditions there are changing pretty quickly.

So, again, what is needed for climate change is a strategic approach – to say, well, we need to give extra special attention to these birds that are going to be the soonest affected by these changes. And Kaua`i certainly is the place to watch right now. Birds on O`ahu have largely become extinct except for a few species – the O`ahu `elepaio certainly needs a lot of help. But Kaua`i still has eight species of forest birds. We’re still seeing decreases in their numbers. The Kaua`i `akepa and the Kaua`i creeper, the `akikiki and `akeke`e are declining.

Those birds really need help. Certainly habitat improvement could help. Predator control within their range – it’s a relatively small range, so it’s feasible. It’s a matter of political will and financial resources to do it.

We may also have to think beyond Kaua`i as a habitat for these birds. Maybe we will have to take some of these birds and move them to other islands, like Maui. Maui at one time had a species of thrush. Kaua`i had two species of thrush. We now have one, puaiohi, which is on its last legs, with somewhere between 300 and 500 birds. Some of those birds could be brought to Maui.

Maui had a species of `akepa. It’s extinct. Kaua`i still has its `akepa. Here’s another potential move that could be made.

The New Zealanders have made tremendous progress saving birds by moving them to new islands. We in Hawai`i have done this. The nene was introduced to Maui and to Kaua`i from the Big Island, and it has expanded in those places. More recently, the Laysan duck was brought to Midway, and the population there is pretty soon going to be bigger than the one on Laysan.

It’s time for us to begin thinking about this for the forest birds. Here the best means of prevention is not to have all your eggs in one basket.

EH: Is there some plan for triage? If funding doesn’t come through, and you have limited resources, are you just going to say, for instance, sorry Kaua`i, you’re out of luck.

Pratt: I’ve never heard of that, and I don’t see why there should be. There’s no triage on the mainland. Even some of the least-funded birds on the mainland do better than what we have here. There should be no triage until a bird goes extinct.

I think there really is cause for optimism. There are things we can do for each one of these species. The approach has often been to lump birds together, either by island or by ecosystems, and if you do this, that is a form of triage, too. There are some specific things that can be done for each one of these species, and there should be strategic planning done for each one of these species, as is done on the mainland.

Certainly you can take a pessimistic perspective, and say well, we can make some predictions about what’s going to happen to each one of these birds, and those predictions can be informative. For example, you could say Kaua`i birds are in more trouble than those on the Big Island because they have less habitat, and make that a prediction. On the other hand, the ultimate outcome of those predictions is something not certain. Those outcomes are hard to predict. I think if R.C.L. Perkins a hundred years ago had been asked who he would put his money on – would he put his money on the kama’o, on Kaua`i, or the puaiohi. That’s a no brainer, he’d have said, you’d put it on the kama`o any day. He said it was the most abundant bird in the Kaua`i forest. How could you possibly predict that it would go extinct and we’d be dealing now with the puaiohi?

So I’m hoping that we will have, in the long run, some surprises. I think we can be very knowledgeable and be very smart in our approaches to conservation, but we can’t really look into a crystal ball. Taking that approach, I think we should give every species its best shot.

EH: You say a minimum of about $40 million a year is needed to accomplish what’s minimally needed to conserve all species of Hawaiian forest birds.

Pratt: That was one of the most difficult things we had to write about. In the endangered species recovery plan, all these cost estimates were put in, and many of them were just pulled out of thin air. A lot covered very big items – habitat protection on a large scale in areas that were quite weed-invaded, controlling predators over vast areas. That’s all very, very expensive.

On the other hand, we can make progress with less. Obviously, since we’ve been doing that, and we are making progress.

David Leonard, who wrote the chapter on funding, is now working on a sequel to that, trying to figure out what will be the cost of saving Hawai`i forest birds. He’s going to try to make all those calculations.

I think one of the dangers in looking at the cost of saving birds is, by the time you add it all up, you look at this figure and say, Oh my god, I can’t afford this – just to save these birds? I’m not going to spend $40 million a year just to save these birds. It’s just not worth it.

But the thing is, a lot of the saving the Hawaiian forest birds is tied into saving everything else – it’s tied into saving the best of the Hawaiian habitat that’s out there, with all its component biota, of which Hawaiian forest birds are a part. One of the nice things about that fact is that some of the tab can be picked up by watershed partnerships. They’re there to protect habitat. The national parks are there to protect everything in their realm.

So some of the costs are actually going to be borne by projects in which birds are just one component.

EH: There will be people who will say, why bother saving these unique birds? Why not, if they’re required to propagate certain plants in the forest, let them all go extinct, and something else will come along to replace them.

Banko: Well, we’re without the passenger pigeon, and the Carolina parakeet, and the great auk, and so forth. Around the world, we’re without all these species, and we’re rolling along just fine. Your individual quality of life is pretty much unaffected by that. So it’s reasonable to think that people on the mainland and elsewhere in the world might say, well, no more Hawaiian birds, and that’s too bad, but I’ve got a meeting to do. We’re such an adaptable species we can accommodate to an almost frightening range of consequences, which makes it hard for us to put on the brakes.

So, I have no real answers for that. All the Hawaiian birds could go extinct, and no one in New York would feel the consequence of that one bit.

Even in Hawai`i, the majority wouldn’t even know. You’d have to report it. How would they know? Tey’re not exposed to very many of them to begin with, and they think very little about them as a general rule. It just does not come up in party conversation, outside of select groups. I see that as one of the big threats, as I alluded to earlier. A social dimension like this is one we’re not really prepared to address. That’s not what we do, and it’s clearly not what we’re good at, or we wouldn’t be in such a pickle.

I think until that element of social awareness is brought in, we won’t be as effective as we could be. We need somebody who’s much more prepared and versed in outreach than we are – how to engage the public, or a much bigger chunk of the public than whatever small percent really does think about their environment closely.

Pratt: We need to think of ways of bringing Hawaiian birds into the lives of Hawai`i’s people. You have to physically bring the two together. Providing a lot more access, more trails, birding opportunities, places where classes can be taken to see birds. The state has been trying to do this up on the Saddle Road, where they’ve built a loop trail. It’s great, off a major artery people drive through all the time. But there has to be more of this. There have to be more interpretive opportunities.

But that only gets you so far. People have to be exposed to stuff enough, and get something positive out of it so they actually love it. Once they love it, then they’re going to defend it. We see that with the SOS program on Kaua`i – Save Our Shearwaters. People see the shearwaters beside the road, feel sorry for them, and so they bring them in. The public is keyed into that.

That’s certainly one of the reasons the turtles get so much help. People like seeing the turtles.

The Nature Conservancy on Maui has a wonderful reserve, but there’s only very limited access. There has to be larger access to these birds, for people to see them and have first-hand experience.

In my view, this could be done without impacting the birds’ populations as a whole. You could have some small area of 10 acres or whatever, where there’s a trail people could walk around, where classes could be brought, or any interested person could go.

We live in a society where, if one person develops a strong interest in caring for something, they can actually make a difference. Out of a population of a million people in Hawai`i, if we had just some small number of people interested in birds – two, or three, or four or 10 times that many people with a keen interest, they could make a large impact.

EH: We haven’t talked much about captive propagation.

Pratt: What we need to learn a lot about now is how to introduce birds to habitat – whether that’s translocation of wild birds or introduction of captive-reared. It’s the introduction component that’s really difficult and we have a lot to learn about.

There was a steep learning curve 10, 15 years ago about how do you bring birds into captivity and maintain them and breed them, and we’re over that for a lot of species. Right now the hard part, and this has always been the hard part, is how do you establish new populations of an animal?

Banko: And in some cases, how do you get them to breed? It’s mixed. The puaiohi readily breeds in captivity. But all the rest – palila, there are essentially two females who breed in captivity. We can’t get the other ones to breed. What does it take? The `alala is doing a little better.
The big take-home message for me with captive propagation is: You’d better not be relying on that, better not be waiting until it comes to that, because your chances are very slim that it will work – that you’re going to get a puaiohi out of it. Instead you’re probably going to get a palila or `alala or something that just does not do that well in captivity, and it will take a ton of money to get them over the hump.


Patricia Tummons


Volume 20, Number 7 — January 2010


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