18 January 2010


'Alala (Corvus hawaiiensis), Extinct in the Wild

The 'Alala, has been Extinct in the Wild since 2002. What is an 'Alala you ask? 'Alala is the Hawaiian name for a bird that others call the Hawaiian Crow.

The last few wild birds lived out their lives on the island of Hawaii, in the Kona Forest Unit of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Now, the 'Alala no longer exists, except for sixty some birds in two breeding centers, (one on Maui and one on the Big Island of Hawaii), and a single bird at the San Diego Zoo.

The birds declined because of a variety of factors, including habitat alteration by wild cattle, sheep, and pigs. These animals would clear the underbrush of the native plants that the 'Alala depended on for food. The lack of underbrush also made the Hawaiian Crow more susceptible to attacks from it's main predator, the 'Io, aka the Hawaiian Hawk. Logging and the conversion of forested land into agricultural land added to the problem.

Recovery efforts have been underway since at least the 1970s, but with little success. Between 1993 and 1999, 27 captive reared birds were released. Twenty-one of those died in the wild, and the remaining 6 were recaptured to preserve their genetic diversity for the captive breeding program. The captive breeding population has grown over the years, but very slowly.

Currently, a single 19-year old bird is being kept at the San Diego Zoo, where it is hoped that it will be possible to collect his sperm, so that his important genes will not be lost, since he will no longer breed.

In 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published an update to its recovery plan for the 'Alala, including plans for continued captive breeding and eventual reintroduction into conserved and protected habitats. In order to carry out the recovery plan, an estimated $14 million will need to be found.

You can stay up to date on the latest news and information about the 'Alala at Crows.net.

[January 20, 2010, 9:32 pm, corrected the location of the breeding centers in paragraph 2]


Brooks Rownd said...

The 'alala population are split between the Olinda facility on Maui and the Keauhou facility on Hawai'i.

There was a very unexpected rumor of a wild bird last year, but the people involved didn't have a camera to document their sighting.

Unfortunately much of Kona is a terrible mess, which complicates any future hope for reintroduction to the wild.

Greg said...

Brooks, thanks for the clarification and updated information. Are you involved with the Olinda or Keauhou facilities?

Brooks Rownd said...

I have no involvement with the bird breeding programs, which are pretty difficult to even visit. I was fortunate to visit Olinda once. I help with bird surveys here in my spare time, so I've been to the former 'alala habitat.