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Dark day for poor Po`o-uli

Is Hawaiian Honeycreeper Now Extinct?

Another of Hawaii`s native bird species has taken a step closer to extinction with the death in captivity of possibly the last Po`o-uli left on the planet. The Po`o-uli Melamprosops phaeosoma belongs to one of the world`s most threatened bird families ? the Hawaiian honeycreepers (Drepanididae). The species was only discovered in 1973, in Maui`s Ko`olau Forest Reserve. Even then its population was estimated at fewer than 200 individuals. In 1995, only five to seven birds were known but and by mid-1997 just three individuals could be found, each with distinct home ranges in Hanawi Natural Area Reserve and the immediately adjacent Haleakala National Park. In common with many other native Hawaiian birds it is thought that habitat loss and degradation (often by invasive feral pigs), and the rapid spread of introduced mosquitoes carrying diseases such as avian malaria (to which native birds have little resistance), contributed to the species` massive decline. The tragic death of this bird means that we may now be too late to prevent the addition of Po`o-uli to the depressingly long list of recent extinctions in Hawaii. It should serve as a wake-up call to redouble our efforts to save Hawaii`s threatened species, in particular the 12 species listed as Critically Endangered. ?Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator, BirdLife International.In 2002, one of the remaining individuals was caught and released within the territory of another, in an attempt to get the two to breed. However, the translocated bird did not remain in the area. Captive breeding efforts began in 2003, when members of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project attempted to locate and trap all remaining birds. One bird was finally captured on September 9 2004, but sadly this individual ? possibly the last of its kind ? died on November 28 2004. The only remaining hope for the species is that new individuals can be found elsewhere on the island (unlikely) or that the other two birds can be located, taken into captivity and bred successfully. Given the age these birds must be if still alive ? and the fact that researchers are not even sure of their sex ? the chances of this happening seem remote. Hawaii`s bird extinction crisis is a global tragedy that is largely being ignored. That the world`s wealthiest nation is allowing bird extinctions to continue, largely unchecked, in its own back yard is unconscionable. ?Dr George H Fenwick, President, American Bird Conservancy.As a result it seems that the Po`o-uli looks set to soon join the thirteen other unlucky extinct members of its family, along with many other Hawaiian endemic landbirds that now can only be found as skins in museums. A further seven species of Hawaiian honeycreeper are classified as Critically Endangered, with another endemic landbird, the Hawaiian Crow, now officially considered to be Extinct in the Wild with a few birds clinging-on in captivity.

4th July 2014