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Save Hawaiian Forest Birds From Extinction

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Sponsor: The Animal Rescue Site

Climate change has encouraged mosquitoes in Hawai'i to spread avian malaria. Help us save these beautiful birds!

Some of Hawai'i's most beautiful birds will soon go extinct without intervention.

Only a few dozen 'akikiki live in the wild, and another 42 are in captivity1. The species of Hawaiian honeycreeper is confined to Kauai and one of Hawai'i's most endangered birds.

The 'akeke'e population is larger but also endangered, with 600 left in the wild2. This species is disappearing even faster than the 'akikiki.

The kiwikiu has also recently been classified by the USFWS as endangered3, and the same classification may not be far behind for the ʻākohekohe (Palmeria dolei)4.

The future of these species is looking grim, and unless Hawai'i's mosquito population is brought under control, they may not have a future at all5.

Invasive southern house mosquitoes introduced to Hawai'i in the early 1800s spread avian malaria throughout the lowland areas of Kauai6.

As climate change warms even the higher plateaus of the island, mosquitoes have expanded their territory, spreading avian malaria to other species7. That's resulted in huge species losses, especially for the 'akikiki and the 'akeke'e, which are particularly vulnerable to the malaria parasite8.

There may be hope in a few conservation strategies.

One strategy is a form of mosquito control involving working with natural bacteria in mosquitoes called Wolbachia9. The Wolbachia bacteria normally don't cause issues for mosquitoes, but when two mosquitoes carrying two different strains of Wolbachia mate, the eggs are infertile.

Congress has recently provided $6.5 million in funding for this operation through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law10.

The problem is, the project may not receive funding until 2024, potentially too late for the less than 30 'akikiki left alive in the wild11.

Another strategy involves catching the birds and breeding them in captivity.12.

Moving the birds around from their home to suitable habitats on Hawai'i Island is a third option, but this may not have positive outcomes for all of Hawai'i's native forest birds13.

As many as 11 more native Hawaiian forest birds are vulnerable to extinction as a result of avian malaria spreading into high elevation forests14. We need to take action now before it is too late..

Help us save the beautiful birds of Hawai'i. Sign the petition and ask the state to fund these promising efforts and save these species from extinction!

More on this issue:

  1. Joshua Rapp Learn, The Wildlife Society, (19 May 2022), "WSB: Extensive measures required to save Hawaiian birds from extinction."
  2. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "Akekee (Loxops caeruleirostris)."
  3. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "Maui parrotbill (Kiwikiu) (Pseudonestor xanthophrys)."
  4. Hilo Online Knowledge Universe, University of Hawai'i at Manoa Hamilton Library (14 Apr 2022) "Hawaiian forest bird conservation strategies for minimizing the risk of extinction: biological and biocultural considerations."
  5. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "Saving Hawai'i's Forest Birds."
  6. Native Voices, "1826: Mosquitoes arrive in Hawai'i."
  7. Anouk Glad, L. H Crampton, Journal of Vector Ecology (December 2015), "Local prevalence and transmission of avian malaria in the Alakai Plateau of Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.."
  8. U.S. Geological Survey (17 July 2015)"As Climate Warms Hawaiian Forest Birds Lose More Ground to Mosquitoes."
  9. Sandy Ong, Nature (27 October 2021), "Wolbachia goes to work in the war on mosquitoes."
  10. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (13 May 2022), "Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Supports Ecosystem Restoration."
  11. Gloria Dickie, The Revelator (26 June 2017), "The Birds and the Bugs: Trying to Save Hawaii's Akikiki and Akeke'e."
  12. Monika, Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project (15 April 2015), "A very exciting Easter egg hunt: preserving the 'akikiki, an endangered native Hawaiian forest bird species."
  13. Joshua Rapp Learn, The Wildlife Society, (8 January 2022), "Conservationists race to save Hawaiian kiwikiu honeycreeper."
  14. Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey (14 April 2022), "New Reports: Conservation Strategies for Hawaiian Forest Birds at Risk of Extinction — Biological and Biocultural Considerations."
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The Petition:

To the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office,

Mosquitoes spreading avian malaria are driving Hawai'i's forest birds toward extinction. Climate change is causing temperatures to rise on the higher plateaus where the birds were once safe. In turn, mosquitoes are expanding their territory and killing off many birds through avian malaria.

Researchers have a few strategies to control the mosquito population and save the endangered birds from going extinct. One strategy involves working with natural bacteria in mosquitoes called Wolbachia that can be used to reduce reproductive rates of a colony. Another strategy involves taking in as many birds as possible and breeding them in captivity. Researchers have also attempted to translocate birds from an area with mosquitoes to another island where they will be safe.

The U.S. government has set aside money for funding these programs through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but it likely will not arrive in time to save the less than 30 ‘akikiki left alive in the wild.

The 'akikiki, 'akeke'e, kiwikiu and as many as 11 more native Hawaiian forest birds are vulnerable to extinction as a result of avian malaria spreading into high elevation forests.

What measures are found to be successful now, may also help us understand how to save more of Hawai'i's unique forest bird communities. Whether through mosquito control, captive breeding or transferring birds to other islands, the survival of these species is critical.

I implore to you to offer immediate support and increase funding for forest bird conservation programs throughout Hawai'i. The future of these species depend on it!


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