Two young ‘alalā were moved back into an aviary at the State of Hawai‘i’s Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve last week, as conservationists work to overcome challenges faced by the birds during their reintroduction.
A group of five ‘alalā were released into the protected reserve on Dec. 14. Although the birds had been observed doing well and eating from feeders placed in the area, three birds were found dead over the last week.
The ‘alalā, or Hawaiian crow, has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
The confirmed cause of the deaths is currently unknown but conservationists hope to gather information about what happened to the birds through necropsy examinations.
John Vetter, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources-Division of Forestry and Wildlife said some level of mortality is to be expected when reintroducing a species back into the wild.
“The initial days of release are always the most difficult stage of any release program, and the level of uncertainty is also highest with the first release cohort,” Vetter said. “We decided to recapture the remaining birds to ensure their safety while we await the results of the necropsies, so that we can learn, respond, and continue to strive for the long-term success of the ‘alalā.”
Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve is an area that conservationists have worked to preserve, protecting native plants and species, and it represents the type of habitat where ‘alalā originally lived before their numbers began to decline.
“The loss of these three birds is difficult for the entire community, including the many people who have cared for these birds since their hatch and have worked steadfastly to prepare for their release. Condolences for this loss have come from around the world,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.