WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2007 (ENS) – A national bird protection group and a Hawaiian bird expert are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protection to two increasingly rare birds found only on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.
Population surveys conducted this spring show that these species may be on the brink of extinction. The two birds – the akikiki and the akeke’e – are not adequately protected by existing regulatory mechanisms, the petitioners say.
The American Bird Conservancy and Dr. Eric VanderWerf submitted a petition Thursday requesting protection under the Endangered Species Act for the akeke’e and the akikiki, two Hawaiian honeycreepers.
The akikiki lives only on the high, wet slopes of Kauai’s highest mountain. (Photos by Eric VanderWerf courtesy American Bird Conservancy)
After many years as bird recovery coordinator with the Service in Hawaii, Dr. VanderWerf now has his own consulting firm. He is still engaged in keeping the unique birds of Hawaii from vanishing into extinction.He says more research is needed to determine why populations of the akikiki and the akeke’e a have been in steep decline since 1970, although other Hawaiian birds are known to have gone extinct due to a combination of habitat loss and degradation caused by invasive alien plants and browsing and rooting by feral pigs, diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes, predation by alien mammals such as rats, and catastrophes such as hurricanes.
“Recent surveys show that the akikiki and the akeke’e are in serious trouble,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. “The strongest available measures such as captive-breeding, fencing out and removal of invasive species, and listing under the Endangered Species Act, are all necessary to prevent these species from going extinct.”
The current population of the akikiki could be as few as 782 birds, based on surveys conducted in April and May. The population has steadily declined from around 7,000 birds in 1970 to this year’s all time low. The geographic range occupied by the akikiki declined from 34 square miles in 1970 to 14 square miles in 2000, and may have continued to decline since then.
The akeke’e uses its offset bill to pry open leaves and flower buds of just one tree, the ōhi‘a.
The current population of the akeke’e is estimated to be as low as 2,506 birds, based on the April and May surveys. The population has declined from around 8,000 birds in 2000.
The geographic range occupied by the akeke’e was also 34 square kilometers in 1970, and although this was reported not to have changed in 2000, surveys in 2007 failed to find the species in many areas where it was previously observed.
This would indicate that there has been a range contraction, the bird scientists say, though the extent is not known at this time.
The threat from mosquito-borne diseases may worsen as global warming allows mosquitoes to invade the highest, coldest parts of the island that once provided refuge from disease, the bird experts warn.
The akikiki is categorized as Critically Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union due to its extremely small and declining population and geographic range.
The akeke’e is categorized as Endangered by the IUCN due to its small and declining geographic range and declines in habitat quality.
Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species with 329, and in extinctions – with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since human colonization.
When Captain Cook landed on the islands in 1778, there were at least 71 endemic bird species. Since then, 26 of those species have gone extinct, and 32 more are now listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered.
Several Hawaiian bird species, the Po’ouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.