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Biologists relocate endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper on Kauai in attempt to save species

  • COURTESY SAN DIEGO ZOO WILDLIFE ALLIANCE
                                Wildlife officials rescued a 6-month-old ‘akikiki chick from Kauai Sunday after an extensive search. The tiny Hawaiian honeycreeper, which is just a few inches long and weighs less than an AAA battery, is found only in the wet, mountainous forest of the Alakai Wilderness Preserve on Kauai.

    COURTESY SAN DIEGO ZOO WILDLIFE ALLIANCE

    Wildlife officials rescued a 6-month-old ‘akikiki chick from Kauai Sunday after an extensive search. The tiny Hawaiian honeycreeper, which is just a few inches long and weighs less than an AAA battery, is found only in the wet, mountainous forest of the Alakai Wilderness Preserve on Kauai.

After days of searching, a team of wildlife biologists trying to find a family of endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers in the rainforest of Kauai succeeded at locating a chick.

The 6-month-old akikiki chick — nicknamed Erica for now — was flown by helicopter Sunday to the Maui Bird Conservation Center managed by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

There, it will go through a 30-day quarantine, then eventually join about 40 others that were hatched at the center from eggs collected in the forest.

The team had been camped out in the Halehaha area of Kauai’s Alakai Wilderness Preserve for the past 10 days, trying to find and rescue what they believe are the last remaining akikiki in the area.

They believe the last survivors to be a family of four, including a breeding pair and their two chicks, plus possibly another bird.

Akikiki, or Oreomystis bairdi, are very small, pale gray and white, and found only on Kauai.

They are on the brink of extinction, experts say, as rising temperatures driven by climate change bring invasive mosquitoes — and avian malaria — to higher elevations of forests where they dwell.

At the Maui Bird Conservation Center, veterinarian Dr. Deena Brenner gave the chick a thorough exam upon arrival, and said overall, it looked healthy and well. The chick was given fluids to help with mild dehydration.

“It was a big day for this little bird,” she said.

The number of the akikiki in the forest has plummeted over a decade, according to bird experts, and could be gone in under two years without “landscape scale control of disease-carrying mosquitoes.” Experts estimated there to be fewer than 100 — and probably fewer than 50 — of akikiki left on Kauai.

Cali Cramptom of the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project noted that in 2018, there were nests everywhere compared to this year, when only one one nesting pair was found.

“I hoped we wouldn’t be here,” said Crampton, who is leading the search-and-rescue mission, in a statement. “I also know we were hoping against hope when we started the conservation breeding flock with the egg collections. We wanted to have mosquito control in place before they invaded here. Unfortunately, we are out of time for this particular species and this particular field site.”

The translocation project has been approved at state and federal levels as part of an emergency effort to save the akikiki from going extinct, officials said.

Biologists plan to eventually release the bird back to the forest when efforts to reduce its mosquito population have been completed, but that could take several years.

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