Record Breeding Season for `Alala

Posted at 12:20 pm October 14, 2010 by Richard Switzer

Youngsters develop social skills in the large juvenile aviary.

As the end of our program year draws to a close, we are able to reflect back on the breeding season for the birds of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Most notable have been our achievements with the propagation of `alala. During 2010, we hatched 13 `alala chicks and raised 11 healthy youngsters (see `Alala Season: Encouraging Start). Unfortunately, one chick died very shortly after hatch, and another had to be euthanized due to congenital abnormalities. However, these totals represent a record for reproductive success since the inception of the `alala captive breeding program.

Just as exciting, our 11 young recruits bring the current population to a total of 77 known birds. In combination with the 8 youngsters raised in 2009, the `alala population has increased by 30 percent in 2 years. So we are definitely making progress toward species recovery for the `alala, whose entire population dropped to a low-point of approximately 20 birds in 1994.

However, the `alala is still a challenging species to propagate in managed care, with our avicultural efforts hindered by a disappointing hatch rate of healthy chicks. Consequently, we continue to manage the species intensively, utilizing the techniques of behavioral analysis, artificial incubation, and hand-rearing to maximize reproductive success.

With the rearing of this year’s 11 youngsters, we are delighted to have taken a significant leap away from the threat of extinction. But a flourishing captive population is just the first major phase toward the ultimate goal of reestablishing a viable population of `alala in the wild. In the hope and anticipation that this level of reproductive success will continue in future years, we can now begin to focus on the prospects and plans for reintroduction.

Richard Switzer is the conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.

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6 Responses to “Record Breeding Season for `Alala”

  1. Mae was from NJ says:

    Eleven healthy birds that would likely not exist without the efforts of the program!! You mention the challenges that still remain to increase the breeding and hatch rates. With the success that have been made thus far, I am optimistic that these obstacles will eventually be overcome.

    Love the photo! I imagine the loud chatter they make must sound like music to your ears.

  2. Tom says:

    As someone who has lived in Hawaii, I have great sorrow for what has been lost, but also high regard for those of you who are attempting to intervene. Mahalo. Keep up your great work.

  3. Lee in Vancouver says:

    What was/is the Alala’s greatest threat in the wild, Richard? Is it man, other animals or something else? Hope you have another productive year next year.

  4. Richard Switzer says:

    To Mae and Tom…

    Thank you for all your kind words. It is certainly wonderful, and entertaining, to see the youngsters interacting and exploring in their flocking aviary. Most importantly, hopefully they represent good breeding potential for the future.

    To Lee in Vancouver…

    Unfortunately the majority of the Hawaiian forest ecosystem is horribly degraded and it is an enormous challenge to prevent it getting more so. It is difficult to pin-point which single threat was most responsible for the extinction of the alala in the wild. A wide range of threats would have contributed in some way – habitat destruction by humans and their hoofstock (particularly those which are now feral), introduced mammalian predators (such as cats, mongoose and rats), introduced avian diseases (such as malaria and toxoplasmosis), and even invasive plants that choke the regeneration of the native forest. Certainly all these threats would need to be taken into consideration when developing a strategy for future Alala reintroductions.

    Best,

    Rich

  5. Ben says:

    Aloha Rich,

    Congratulations on this year’s additions to the Alala flock, it’s heartening to see your progress. I’ve been hoping to attend one of the open houses at Keauhou, which seem to take place in early December – is there going to be one this year as well? If so can you point me to the relevant information?

    Mahalo,

    Ben

  6. Richard Switzer says:

    Hi Ben

    Please give me a call at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center – 808-985-7218.

    Aloha,

    Rich