Partnership Preparing to Release Rare ‘Alalā Back into the Wild

Animal care staff with the Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program are getting ready for an important breeding season—the season that will see hatching of ‘alalā, or Hawaiian crow, chicks that will be released into the wild. The ‘alalā has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only in the program run by San Diego Zoo Global at its bird centers in Hawai‘i.

“In collaboration with our partners, we have been working for many years to build up a large enough—and genetically diverse enough—population to allow us to begin putting the ‘alalā back in the wild,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai’i Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “We have achieved our goal and are now preparing to release ‘alalā into the wild in 2016.”

The program’s goal has been to increase the ‘alalā flock to 75 or more individuals before conducting a trial release of birds into their native forests on the island of Hawai‘i. The ‘alalā is a member of the crow family that was brought to brink of extinction by loss of habitat, introduced predators and diseases. The entire population today stands at 115 birds. A group of dedicated conservationists have been working in partnership to prepare habitat that they hope will support the species in the wild.

“‘Alalā will be released in the far and remote portions of the Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, building upon many years of groundwork laid by many passionate individuals to protect and restore this significant forest,” said John Vetter, wildlife biologist with the State of Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

“Together, the agencies continue to collaborate with a wide variety of public and private partners as they work toward a better future for ‘alalā,” said Michelle Bogardus, team leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These partnerships are integral to the successful reintroduction of this ecologically and culturally important species back into the wild.”

Returning ‘alalā to the wild is a significant step in the recovery of a number of native species on the Hawaiian Islands. Landscape-wide restoration has helped create healthy native forest that not only benefits ‘alalā, but many other native Hawaiian forest birds as well. Healthy native forests also provide many ecosystem services that benefit the people of Hawai’i, as well as cultural resources that ensure the continuation of countless traditions and unique ways of life.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

The mission of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife is to responsibly manage and protect watersheds, native ecosystems and cultural resources, and provide outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products opportunities, while facilitating partnerships, community involvement and education.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The mission of the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office is to conserve and restore native biodiversity and ecological integrity of Pacific Island ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations through leadership, science-based management and collaborative partnerships.