POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 18, 2010
A nearly extinct Hawaiian black crow is making a comeback in captivity.
Eleven alala chicks have been raised this year by the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, increasing the bird's population to 77, according to the San Diego Zoo. Sixteen years ago the population was at a low of 20.
"This was an exceptionally good year," said Loyal Mehrhoff, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said more than 100 birds are needed before the species can be removed from the list, which will probably happen in a few years.
The zoo's conservation program receives funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Birds are bred on Maui and the Big Island.
This year's success shows the bird's release date could be earlier than expected and emphasizes the need for a good reintroduction plan, Mehrhoff said.
Non-native predators, habitat destruction and diseases nearly killed the species off, and it does not exist in the wild.
According to the zoo, alala chicks are difficult to breed in captivity because of a high mortality and abnormality rate. Behavioral analysis, artificial incubation and hand-rearing have improved breeding techniques.
The large birds are important in the native Hawaiian forest for their role in dispersing native fruit and plant seeds, Mehrhoff said, adding that the bird is also striking for its intelligence and curiosity.
A new home for the birds would likely be protected by a fence to keep out predators -- such as feral cats -- and invasive species such as hoofed animals that damage the habitat, a federal wildlife service official said.