Next U.S. Species to go Extinct May be Two Hawaiia|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|05/10/07 at 00:27:46|richard_f|xx|0|86.131.100.118|Next U.S. Species to go Extinct May be Two Hawaiian Birds
Global Warming Heightens Threat to Their Survival

(Washington, D.C. – April 25, 2007) A dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki, two very rare birds on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, is raising concern that these species may be on the brink of extinction. Beginning this month the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will conduct population surveys of forest birds on Kauai to see if the suspected decline is taking place.

“The strongest available measures such as captive-breeding, fencing out and removing invasive species, and emergency listing under the Endangered Species Act, are all necessary due to the recent history of Hawaiian birds in similar circumstances going extinct,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

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The Akekee possesses an unusual bill in which the lower mandible is bent to one side allowing the birds to open up leaf and flower buds in search of bugs. Photo by Jim Denny kauaibirds.com

Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species with 329, and in extinctions – with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands. When Captain Cook landed on the islands in 1778, there were at least 71 endemic bird species. Since then, 26 of those species have gone extinct, and 32 more are now listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

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Fewer than 1,500 Akikiki remain in the wild and its population continues to decline. Photo by Jim Denny kauaibirds.com

David Kuhn, Doug Pratt, and Alvaro Jararillo, who lead birding tours on Kauai, recently alerted scientists, state officials, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to their concerns about the drop in sightings of the once relatively abundant Akekee.

“I and others paying attention to Kauai’s endangered endemics have supposed that the Akikiki would be the next species to disappear – now it is more like a race to the finish,” said David Kuhn a birdwatching tour guide and observer of bird populations on Kauai. “While the Akikiki de-population and range contraction has been linear and relatively slow, Akekee is suddenly crashing. At this point both species can still be found with assiduous listening and searching—how long this might be is anyone’s guess.”

“Disappointing birding along the Alakai Swamp trails. No sightings, and heard only a couple of possible calls of the Akekee,” said Doug Pratt describing a tour he led in March. “This bird was common when I was last here in fall of 2004, and has apparently crashed drastically in the last three years.”

The Akikiki, a small bi-colored bird that lives in wet montane forests in central Kauai, has less than 1,500 remaining individuals and now occupies less than 10% of its former range. Surveys indicate that the population declined 64% in its core area in the Alakai Swamp from 1970 to 2000 due to habitat loss and alteration, the introduction of invasive species, mosquito-born diseases such as avian malaria and pox, and the impacts of hurricanes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2005 that the Akikiki should be officially designated an endangered species, but declined to move forward with the listing for budgetary reasons.

The Akekee, a small yellow and green bird that lives in the high-elevation rainforests of Kauai, was until recently thought to have a stable population, estimated at 20,000 individuals. Like the Akikiki, the Akekee is threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and disease.

Of particular concern is evidence that rising average temperatures could allow mosquitoes to survive at higher-elevations, exposing the birds to deadly diseases. Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded that even a small increase in temperatures in Hawaii’s forests will eliminate much of the mosquito-free safe zone that once existed for Kauai’s birds.

“American Bird Conservancy’s research has shown how effective concerted endangered species conservation can be. The Pacific nation of New Zealand has taken the decision to invest in protecting its unique species, and has been succeeding while the U.S. has stood by and watched as species after species has disappeared from Hawaii,” said Mike Parr American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President. “It is time to stand up and fully support and expand the excellent conservation programs already underway in Hawaii so these great birds are around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”


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