How Hawai‘i’s Endangered ‘Alalā is Slowly Making a Comeback
Ongoing efforts to save Hawai‘i’s last remaining crow seem promising, but officials warn that it’s still a long road ahead.
PHOTOs: COURTESY OF SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL
The nēnē typically get much of the attention as our state bird, but the lesser known ‘alalā is in much more danger.
Since 2002, Hawai‘i’s last remaining crow could only be found in captivity at the Keauhou and Maui bird conservation centers. In 2016, a few of the birds were released into the wild on the slopes of Mauna Loa, but two were killed by the endangered ‘io (Hawaiian hawk) and another died of starvation, underscoring the crushing setbacks (detailed in our 2017 story “On the Brink”) faced when trying to save an endangered species. The remaining two were captured and returned to captivity.
A year later, 11 ‘alalā were released into the wild in a new location away from the ‘io and before winter’s rainy weather. One of the birds was found dead in December, possibly killed by a predator. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the remaining birds are thriving and have learned to forage for native plants, occasionally challenging the ‘io and even showing signs of breeding. In 2018, 10 more birds were released into the wild at Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve on the Big Island. All are also reportedly doing well, according to the USFWS.
Like the nēnē, the ‘alalā are susceptible to predators such as rats and cats. But no one expected the ‘io to round out that pack of predators. Since then, officials have taken a new approach in training the ‘alalā to better respond to and avoid predators.
Hopefully the forest will once again be filled with the ‘alalā’s calls.
This is a web extra from the July feature story, “Flock Together.” Read more about the community effort that helped bring Hawai‘i’s endangered nēnē back from the brink of extinction in the July 2019 issue of HONOLULU. It is available on newsstands now or for purchase at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.