In its fourth year, the ʻAlalā Project has had a number of setbacks, but overall conservationists are optimistic for the future of the species.
ʻAlalā (Hawaiian Crows) are considered a sacred species in Hawaiian culture and regarded as family or spiritual guardians, but since 2002 this keystone species has been missing from its native ecosystem. They were almost entirely wiped out of existence when the ʻAlalā Project initiated a captive breeding program in hopes of one day reviving the species.
In 2016, the ʻAlalā Project released the first five male ʻAlalā into the forests of the Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve. This was a major milestone for the program since ʻAlalā were considered Extinct-in-the-wild, but success was not a given. Shortly after their release, two individuals were killed by native predators, Hawaiian Hawks. Although this was disappointing it helped conservationists re-evaluate and improve their approach, incorporating predator avoidance into their program.
The following year, 11 individuals were released and for over a year the population seemed to thrive—effectively avoiding predators and demonstrating foraging behavior. An additional ten were released in 2018 and seven more in 2019. Sadly, a number of the wild ʻAlalā have since died, leaving only ten individuals remaining.
Unfortunately, four years into the program a number of setbacks have threatened the survival of the released population. While these challenges and the resulting deaths are alarming, species reintroductions are complex and setbacks are expected. With each impediment, the partners in the program including the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and San Diego Zoo Global continue to evaluate next steps and use new information to improve the program and their procedures.
Along with these challenges, there have been significant milestones that reinforce the importance of hope in the face of these challenges.
Successes such as the pairing of released birds and nest building in 2019 are important milestones as the team and the birds move into this upcoming breeding season with hope that the remaining birds will successfully breed in the wild.”Big Island Video News
Still, the ʻAlalā Project pushes forward, monitoring the remaining wild population and analyzing the necessary steps forward to ensure success. While the partners work together and consult reintroduction experts, they believe there is still hope that one day the Guardians of the forest will once again thrive.
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