The fight against extinction and habitat loss can often feel like a losing one. Victories are always temporary, subject to sudden change and constant, precarious protection.
For a team of conservationists working in Hawaii, a 2019 project felt like a devastating failure when they attempted to relocate a small group of kiwikiu, an endangered green-yellow songbird that once filled the air in Maui and Moloka’i with its song.
Avian malaria killed all but two of the birds, dashing hopes that they could thrive in the Nakula Natural Area Reserve where they had been taken, according to Maui Forest Bird.
But the story doesn’t end there! In July of 2021, researchers at the Haleakalā volcano sat in the still air and listened. A quiet chirp caught the ear of Zach Pezzillo one of the scientists studying the area.
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“I first heard what I thought might be a distant kiwikiu song. It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look,” Zach said in a statement published by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources on Facebook.
A small band on the bird’s leg confirmed it — this was “Wild #1,” the first kiwikiu that had been captured by the team in 2019 for the translocation experiment.
He’d been assumed dead when they couldn’t track his signal anymore and the majority of the other translocated kiwikius were found, felled by avian malaria, which is spread by non-native mosquitoes.
“The rapidly warming climate allows mosquitoes to claim new and higher-elevation territories, driving native forest birds closer to extinction. While alien birds may have immunity, native species don’t, with very few exceptions,” the DLNR continued in its Facebook post.
While his survival is stunning, Wild #1 is just one of a species whose survival hangs by a thread. Conservationists are continuing to use various methods to help the kiwikiu last in the changing climate.
“The survival of this single kiwikiu doesn’t change the overall plans for saving the species,” added David Smith, administrator of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, according to The New York Post. “Preventing their extinction is the goal of the entire program. #1 shows us that if we have a good, safe habitat for this, they want to survive.”
Learn more about the kiwikiu here, or see video of the kiwikiu’s rediscovery below!Whizzco