04 May 2009

Revised Recovery Plan Issued for Endangered Hawaiian Crow

A revised recovery plan for the critically endangered Hawaiian Crow, or Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), was released in mid-April by the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service. The species is recognized as being one of the "world’s rarest forest birds."

An Alalā. Photograph by D. Ledig, U.S. F.W.S.

"With the release of this recovery plan, we reach out to Big Island communities asking for their support in helping restore the alalā to its native forests," said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. "Wildlife does not recognize property lines or jurisdictional areas. Working together, we hope to bring this charismatic bird back to its rightful place in Hawai‘i."

"Current threats," to the Alalā, according to the updated, 104-page recovery plan released in January, 2009, "include potential predation by non-native mammals and the `Io or Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius), introduced diseases, and habitat loss and fragmentation. Inbreeding depression may be reducing the reproductive success of the captive population, and loss of wild behaviors in captivity might reduce survivorship of captive-raised birds released into the wild. Because the population is small and confined to captivity, the `Alalā is highly susceptible to stochastic environmental, demographic, and genetic events."

The plan calls for spending $14,380,000 to implement each of the recovery actions, with an ultimate goal of establishing multiple, self-sustaining populations on the island of Hawai’i - its historic range - that would allow the species to be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species.

"Alalā recovery actions," according to a F.W.S. press release, "call for expanding captive propagation to minimize loss of genetic diversity, protecting suitable habitat and managing threats to the species, establishing new populations in managed habitat, establishing a program to increase public support, and continuing research and adaptive management practices for species recovery.

The Maui and Keauhou Bird Conservation Centers managed by the Zoological Society of San Diego – are currently maintaining 60 ‘alalā at their captive propagation facilities. These birds are the sole surviving Alala, and provide the nucleus for increasing the species' population.

Several pairs are currently nesting, according to Jeff Burgett, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alala Recovery Team Leader.

"The population needs to grow to at least 75 birds in order to avoid further loss of genetic diversity and to begin reintroduction into the wild."

In 2002, the last Hawaiian crow existing in the wild was observed, with the last known breeding in the wild in 1996.

The ‘Alalā Recovery Team directing the recovery of the species, is comprised of two private landowners, two avian captive propagation specialists, and representatives from the Hawai‘i Audubon Society, the Hawai‘i Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey’s biological resources discipline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cornell University and Stanford University.

News on efforts to conserve the Alalā is available on the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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