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‘A sense of loss and grief’ over lost birds on Maui

Kiwikiu
The Kiwikiu, or Maui Parrotbill. Photo by Zach Pezzillo (MFBRP)

A story on this website from October 2019 (which was also in our February 2020 issue) described a project of government agencies and conservation groups on the island of Maui aimed at saving one of the rarest and most critically endangered Hawaiian bird species, the Kiwikiu, or Maui Parrotbill.

Surveys in 2017 estimated its total population at just 157 individuals. The last wild population is found in the high-altitude native forests of East Maui. After years of planning, the conservation project was set to establish a second “insurance” population at a site called the Nakula Natural Area Reserve, on the leeward slope of the Haleakalā volcano.

A total of 14 Kiwikiu were released at the new site in October 2019. By late November, according to a report published in March 2021, “all birds either had died or disappeared (except for one individual that was transferred back to the conservation breeding facility). Necropsies indicated avian malaria as the primary cause of death for all recovered individuals and little hope remains for the few remaining missing birds at the site. Unexpectedly high densities of mosquitoes were later confirmed within the release site.”

The report, written by scientists from the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, Pacific Bird Conservation, San Diego Zoo Global, and a state agency, is more than 220 pages long and covers all aspects of the attempted recovery. It details the years of preparation work that took place, including restoration at the Nakula reserve and the removal of rats, mongooses, and other predators. 

“The manner and scale of the Kiwikiu deaths in Nakula NAR and the ramifications for future conservation leave us with a sense of loss and grief,” the authors wrote. “However, we as a conservation community are no less determined to save the Kiwikiu from extinction. The outcome of the 2019 reintroduction attempt has increased our knowledge of the threats to Kiwikiu and our resolve in meeting these challenges.”

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