Petition Filed to Protect Two Hawaiian Birds on Brink of Extinction

Groups Call for Listing under Endangered Species Act

VanderWerf, an acknowledged expert on Hawaiian birds, submitted a petition yesterday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting protection under the Endangered Species Act for the Akekee and the Akikiki, two very rare birds found only on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. Recent population surveys are raising concern that these species may be on the brink of extinction.

"Recent surveys show that the Akikiki and the Akekee are in serious trouble," said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. "The strongest available measures such as captive-breeding, fencing out and removal of invasive species, and listing under the Endangered Species Act, are all necessary to prevent these species from going extinct."

The current population of the Akikiki could be as few as 782 birds, based on surveys conducted in April and May 2007. The population has steadily declined from around 7,000 birds in 1970 to this year's all time low. The geographic range occupied by the Akikiki declined from 34 square miles in 1970 to 14 square miles in 2000, and may have continued to decline since then.

The current population of the Akekee is estimated to be as low as 2,506 birds, based on surveys conducted in April and May 2007. The population has declined from around 8,000 birds in 2000. The geographic range occupied by the Akekee was also approximately 34 square kilometers in 1970, and although this was reported not to have changed in 2000, surveys in 2007 failed to find the species in many areas where it was previously observed. This would indicate that there has been a range contraction, though the extent is not known at this time.

Text Box: Fewer than 1,500 Akikiki remain in the wild, and its population continues to decline. Photo by Eric VanderWerf. The primary threats to the Akikiki and Akekee are habitat loss and degradation caused by invasive alien plants and browsing and rooting by feral pigs, diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes, predation by alien mammals such as rats, and catastrophes such as hurricanes. Some of these threats are severe in magnitude, and are occurring over a significant portion of the species' ranges. The threat from mosquito-borne diseases may worsen as global warming allows mosquitoes to invade the highest, coldest parts of the island that once provided refuge from disease.

The Akikiki and Akekee are not adequately protected by existing regulatory mechanisms. The Akikiki is categorized as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) due to its extremely small and declining population and geographic range. The Akekee is categorized as endangered by the IUCN due to its small and declining geographic range and declines in habitat quality.

Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species with 329, and in extinctions - with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since human colonization. When Captain Cook landed on the islands in 1778, there were at least 71 endemic bird species. Since then, 26 of those species have gone extinct, and 32 more are now listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

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--American Bird Conservancy