Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project fights to save the aikikiki from extinction

This year, the Aikikiki could become functionally extinct.
This year, the Aikikiki could become functionally extinct.(DLNR)
Published: Jun. 3, 2023 at 10:17 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This year, the aikikiki could become functionally extinct.

“The imminent extinction of Akikiki and other Hawaiian honeycreepers will be a huge loss culturally and ecologically,” the Hawaii Department of Natural Resources said in a video.

The birds are quickly vanishing, likely due to avian malaria. And if not taken out by malaria, Aikikiki are prey to rats.

One emerging solution to the malaria problem is the “Incompatible Insect Technique,” which involves interrupting the reproduction of mosquitoes using a bacteria called Wolbachia. While promising, Kauai regulators have not yet approved the novel technology.

In the meantime, members of the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project are camping atop a 3,000-foot cliff at Wainiha Valley with hopes of saving the endangered birds. In January, recovery teams began hiking, flying, and even trudging through knee-deep mud in search of Aikikiki nests.

The recovery teams use pole-mounted cameras to assess the condition of Aikikiki eggs. If the eggs seem to be in good condition, they rig a tethered ladder system to climb up to 48 feet into the forest canopy to retrieve the eggs. They also installed rat traps in egg collection areas to protect the tiny eggs.

Even with the KFBRP’s physically and mentally taxing efforts, the team has struggled to find viable nests to rescue this season. Field Supervisor Justin Hite said that this year, his team has seen “out-of-control level nest failures.”

Usually, the team finds around 30 nests per season, but so far, they have found only 10 this season. These eggs are shipped in portable incubators to a brooding house in Koke’e State Park and later to San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Keauhou Bird Conservation Center at Volcano.

Hite said that the Aikikiki hatchlings may still die in captivity, but removing them seems like “the right path forward.”

“These birds are only here. They’ve been here the whole time, long before people arrived in the islands. They’re quiet, unassuming, and wonderful. If we lose them, it’s a huge loss; it’s terrible,” Hite said.