Record Breeding Season for `Alala

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Youngsters develop social skills in the large juvenile aviary.

As the end of our program year draws to a close, we are able to reflect back on the breeding season for the birds of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Most notable have been our achievements with the propagation of `alala. During 2010, we hatched 13 `alala chicks and raised 11 healthy youngsters (see `Alala Season: Encouraging Start). Unfortunately, one chick died very shortly after hatch, and another had to be euthanized due to congenital abnormalities. However, these totals represent a record for reproductive success since the inception of the `alala captive breeding program.

Just as exciting, our 11 young recruits bring the current population to a total of 77 known birds. In combination with the 8 youngsters raised in 2009, the `alala population has increased by 30 percent in 2 years. So we are definitely making progress toward species recovery for the `alala, whose entire population dropped to a low-point of approximately 20 birds in 1994.

However, the `alala is still a challenging species to propagate in managed care, with our avicultural efforts hindered by a disappointing hatch rate of healthy chicks. Consequently, we continue to manage the species intensively, utilizing the techniques of behavioral analysis, artificial incubation, and hand-rearing to maximize reproductive success.

With the rearing of this year’s 11 youngsters, we are delighted to have taken a significant leap away from the threat of extinction. But a flourishing captive population is just the first major phase toward the ultimate goal of reestablishing a viable population of `alala in the wild. In the hope and anticipation that this level of reproductive success will continue in future years, we can now begin to focus on the prospects and plans for reintroduction.

Richard Switzer is the conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.