LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly 20 captive-reared puaiohi flew into the forests of Kauai on Thursday, marking the end of a successful breeding program for the species.
The state, federal government and conservationists with Diego Zoo Global's Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program worked together to bring the group of birds to the forest for release.
"This is a bittersweet moment for those of us who have been working with these birds on a daily basis," said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager. "We will miss seeing them every day but are delighted to be part of the collaborative effort to ensure this species survives into the future."
In the late 1990s it was believed that there were fewer than 300 of the native birds left on the island of Kauai. Eggs from the species were brought to bird centers so that a captive breeding population could be established.
Since 1999, 240 captive-raised puaiohi have been released into the wild. With about 500 birds in the wild population today, the decision was made to close the captive breeding program to focus on other species in captivity.
For puaiohi, the focus will now be on addressing remaining threats in the wild, including introduced predators, and habitat loss from degradation and invasive weeds.
"Following the model used for the puaiohi, we are now working to build breeding populations for two other critically endangered Kauai species, the akikiki and akekee," said John Vetter, state wildlife biologist.
In addition to monitoring the puaiohi in the wild, conservationists will control introduced predators such as rats, which are a significant threat to Hawaiian forest birds.