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Critically endangered ‘Akikiki dies in captivity

‘Akikiki
The rescued ‘Akikiki named Carrot is examined at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Photo courtesy Hawai’i DLNR

We’ve learned sad news about a Hawaiian honeycreeper. An ‘Akikiki named “Carrot,” which was brought into captivity in September, died this week, nearly three months after being brought into human care.

Carrot was believed to have been one of the only remaining ‘Akikiki in the Halehaha region on Kaua’i. Its species has been decimated by avian malaria — a parasitic disease of birds transmitted by nonnative mosquitoes. The disease threatens several native bird species of Hawai’i;  in fact, in April 2022, a report by federal experts on Hawaiian forest birds predicted that the ‘Akikiki will be extinct in the wild in the next few years, possibly as soon as 2023. Conservationists are working to eradicate avian malaria, but it’s a slow process.

Carrot was being cared for at the Maui Bird Conservation Center managed by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

In a joint statement, the Hawai’i Deptartment of Land and Natural Resources and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said:

“The decision to bring ‘akikiki into human care is a last resort measure due to the species’ imminent extinction in the wild.

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“Unfortunately, Carrot did not make it. We don’t believe this ‘akikiki was felled by avian malaria, but more likely by a common pathogen or fungal infection. Though we are saddened by this loss, it highlights one of the many challenges we face with species recovery efforts.

“We remain undaunted and continue making plans for bringing ‘akikiki and their eggs into a breeding facility with the hope of raising a large enough population to reintroduce birds back into their native habitats, once malaria is under control. We and our partners are learning from Carrot’s death, and all animal rescue, care, and husbandry procedures are being carefully reviewed to ensure best practices continue. Species reintroductions are incredibly difficult and always fraught with setbacks, but we are pressing forward. Once details are available on the 2023 bird and egg collections, the media will be informed. Mahalo.”

Why Hawaii is the epicenter of the avian extinction crisis

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