David Y. Ige | DLNR News Release – Desperate search and rescue continues for Kaua’i honey reptiles

DLNR News Release – Desperate search and rescue continues for Kaua’i honey reptiles

Posted on August 26, 2022 in Latest Departmental News, Newsroom

(LĪHUʻE) – As five members of a bird rescue group gather for 10 days at a wilderness camp in a remote area of ​​Kauai, they all understand the challenges they face and the impending sense of desperation.

A team of Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP) staff and a representative from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the University of Hawai’i Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit (PCSU) are currently searching. At least two endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers ‘akikiki.

Last year, a field called Halehaha in the central mountains of Kauai recorded a shocking decline in the number of akikiki. Biologists monitoring the area found that the number of more than 70 birds recorded in 2015 decreased to only 5 in 2021. By June of this year, only two birds remained, both males. Data from Halehaha, combined with data from other field sites on Kauaʻi, show that ʻakikiki numbers appear to be more stable, indicating that Halehaha is currently dangerous for akikiki due to the presence of avian malaria.

Avian malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is believed to be the main cause of the decline, decimating the ‘akikiki’ population and leading to estimates of the species becoming extinct in the wild as early as next year.

“We’re going to try to find and capture the two banded birds that the researchers call Root and Abby,” said Tyler Winter, KFBRP Field Crew Leader. Abby is the almost two-year-old offspring of Carrot, a male, and Na Pua, a non-striped female. Since last December, they have hatched two chicks, one of which was captured late last year and sent to the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC), which is managed by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

“Even though she has a female name, we’re not sure of Abby’s gender. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Na Pua in the last four or five months. We expect to deal with the other two and the third and get them all to safety before they get infected with avian malaria like the other species,” Winter said.

“The only thing more devastating than the sudden disappearance of the akikiki over the past few years is the realization that the same thing will happen to the rest of the Hawaiian honeycreeper in the near future,” commented KFBRP Field Supervisor Justin Hite.

Hite added, “Akikiki’s chances at this point are slim…very bleak. But ‘akeke’e and ‘anianiau do not have to suffer the same fate. If we don’t act, they will. This is definitive.”

Throughout the year, survey teams trap mosquitoes on the islands of Kaua’i, Maui, and Hawaii to develop information on insect population distribution. This will prevent mosquito breeding and lead to smaller mosquito populations, helping to inform management decisions for a proposed project to introduce male mosquitoes that are not compatible with forest habitats of honeycreeper species.

Hawaii DOFAW/PCSU Avian Disease Research Supervisor Cara Thow takes a break from survey work to join search and rescue efforts. This will be a number of firsts for him. First time flying in a helicopter and hopefully first time seeing an ‘akikiki’ in the wild. He was invited to join the mission because of his ability to bind small birds.

“Bringing them into captivity is the species’ best shot because otherwise they will succumb to avian malaria. This really brings it home for the work we do on the Big Island and the work survey teams do all over the state. An extinction trajectory for all Hawaiian honeycreepers if we can’t control mosquitoes. We have to raise our game,” Thow said.

Hite pleaded, “I hope people want to help. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do as individuals to make a difference. Mosquitoes are in the field, malaria is in the field, and they come for the birds. No matter how much you recycle, how little carbon you burn, it won’t stop him. We hope that people will support the release of unfit male mosquitoes to drive out the numbers of malaria-infected mosquitoes that kill birds. This is the only conservation measure that will not only help stop the impending extinction of these birds, but also allow them to re-expand into areas where they have already disappeared.”

If the team is successful in capturing the birds, they will join the 36 adult ‘akikiki’ at MBCC, with the hope that the population will be safe through captive breeding and will grow enough to release the birds into the wild once avian malaria is controlled. .

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(All images/video courtesy: DLNR)

HD video – ‘Akikiki continues search and rescue media clips (25 August 2022):


(Shooting sheet attached)

HD video – ‘Akikiki search and rescue, Alakai Plateau (November 30-December 2, 2021):


HD video – One bird, one hope for a species (as seen on select Hawaiian Airlines flights):


Photos – ‘Akikiki search and rescue continues (25 August 2022):


Photos – ‘Akikiki search and rescue, Alakai Plateau (November 30-December 2, 2021):


Media Contact:

Dan Dennison

Senior Communications Manager

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

(808) 587-0396

[email protected]

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