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UH Hilo researchers get $50K Disney grant to research songs of Hawaiian crows

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Hilo working on saving the critically endangered Hawaiian crow, or alala, have received $50,000 from the Disney Conservation Fund to continue their work.

The award was given to a team from the university’s Tropical Conservation Biology and Environment Sciences graduate program and Biology Department to conduct research on whether captive-reared alala are developing new vocalizations as they adapt to new situations encountered in the wild.

“Establishing a self-sustaining wild population of alala will require flexible and innovative management strategies,” said Kristina Paxton, adjunct assistant professor, in a UH news release

With the award, the researchers will be able to do intensive research in collaboration with The Alala Project, said Paxton, which is a partnership between the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, San Diego Zoo Global and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Our work is perfectly suited for education and outreach by bringing the sounds of the forest to the people,” said biology professor Patrick Hart. “We will use the findings of our research to highlight conservation and science through the story of the alala and their vocal culture.”

Disney selected grant recipients based on their efforts to stabilize and increase populations of at-risk animals as well as engage communities in conservation.

Alala, once an endemic species found in forests throughout Hawaii, have been extinct in the wild since 2002. They have complex and diverse vocalizations, according to UH, which play an integral role in avoiding predators, attracting a mate and establishing territory.

To date, The Alala Project has released 16 captive-reared crows into the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawaii island.

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