David Ledig/AP
The Hawaiian crow.

US Will Spend Millions to Save Hawaiian Crow from Extinction

April 21, 2009 06:39 AM
by Anne Szustek
The alala, or Hawaiian crow, is one of the rarest birds in the world. The U.S. government plans to spend more than $14 million over the next five years to revive its population.

US Government Prepares to Save Bird Not Seen in Wild in Seven Years

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled a plan to rescue the waning population of the alala, or Hawaiian crow, on Friday. The bird, among the world’s rarest, has only been seen in the wild on the Big Island of Hawaii, and has not been spotted since 2002. At this time, 56 alala are being managed at conservation centers located on Maui and the Big Island, under the auspices of the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, said in a statement, “With the release of this recovery plan, we reach out to Big Island communities asking for their support in helping restore the ‘alala to its native forests …Working together, we hope to bring this charismatic bird back to its rightful place in Hawaii.”
The project entails reintroducing the alala into its native habitat, the tropical forests of Hawaii’s Big Island, as well as implementing preservation projects. Habitat restorations will account for much of the project’s $14 million price tag.

The alala is the only species surviving from a group of crows native to the Hawaiian Islands prior to colonization by humans. The bird’s numbers were plentiful as of the 1890s; subsequently, they steadily dropped in spite of species protection laws. Feral cats and habitat loss have been key factors in the near-extinction of the bird, which is revered by Native Hawaiians.

Between 1993 and 1998, more than two dozen Hawaiian crows cared for in captivity were released into the wild. Of them, 21 died; the survivors were caught and placed back into the care of scientists.

Background: Prior recovery efforts of endangered species

Saving endangered species has been an uphill battle, if recent headlines are any indication. In May 2008, the Living Planet Index showed that biodiversity had “plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005,” reported The Zoological Society of London, cited by findingDulcinea. An animal kingdom census revealed the decline, and attributed it to five human causes: climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species spread and overexploitation of species.

According to the Red List of Threatened Species 2008, released Oct. 6 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, some 1,139 of 5,487 mammal species are in danger of extinction. The situation could be even bleaker than outlined in the survey, as there was not enough data to determine the status of 836 mammals.

A couple of weeks earlier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked a federal judge to vacate a March 2008 decision to delist the gray wolf from the protected species list. The delisting would have made the state governments of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana responsible for managing gray wolves living in the northern Rockies.

One bright spot in the fight to save the world’s endangered species has been the rebound in the bald eagle’s numbers. On June 28, 2007, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced the bald eagle’s removal from the “threatened” species list, to which it was reclassified in 1995 after decades of being on the verge of extinction. The United States’ 1972 ban on DDT has been largely credited with playing an integral role in the bird’s recovery.

And in a sign of hope that Earth can prevail, last summer, U.S. scientist S. Blair Hedges stumbled upon a tiny new species of snake under a rock in Barbados. Hedges named the snake “Leptotyphlops carlae” after his herpetologist wife, Carla Ann Hass. He thinks his discovery, about the size of a U.S. quarter, is the smallest that snakes get.

Although many new species are in danger of extinction, many new species have come into public knowledge. For example, new fungus and dolphin species were discovered in August 2008.

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