IUCN Spotlight: Chris Farmer
Gone is the Kauai O‘o bird, which was endemic to the island of Kauai. Its songs can no longer be heard in tree branches, with all that remains being a recording at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Its last song was heard in 1985.
Before that, we lost the Oahu ‘akepa (1893), the Laysan honeycreeper (1923) and Lanai creeper (1937). Today, many native Hawaiian birds continue to live on the brink of becoming extinct due to invasive species, loss of habitat and mosquito-borne diseases.
Chris Farmer, Hawaii Program Director of the American Bird Conservancy, said roughly a third of all endangered birds in the world are native Hawaiian. Being on isolated islands, conservation work here is more challenging due to the small, geographic location and lack of funding.
"Hawaii's native birds are one of the biggest conservation needs in the world," said Farmer. "I do feel we're at a crossroads. A lot of these birds are in serious shape. We know it needs to get done. If we take action now, we can save these precious and endangered species found nowhere else in the world."
Hawaii is the bird extinction capital of the world, according to the conservancy.
Native birds such as the ‘akikiki, ‘i‘iwi and Maui parrotbill are at risk of declining quickly. The ‘i‘iwi, or Hawaiian honeycreeper, was once one of the most common native forest birds in the Hawaiian archipelago but is in decline due to avian malaria. Climate change is another threat.
Yet Farmer, who has been dedicated to saving Hawaiian birds since 2004, remains optimistic.
The translocation of endangered millerbirds to Hawaii's Laysan island is a success story. In 2013, the population of the millerbirds there had doubled to more than 100 after 50 were translocated from Nihoa in previous years. Last year, 10 endangered Hawaiian petrel chicks were flown by helicopter to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where they are protected by a predator-proof fence, on Kauai.
In April, biologists released more than a dozen puaiohi (small Kauai thrush) from captive breeding programs at a wilderness preserve on the Garden Isle. Hawaiian crows, or alala, are also being bred in captivity and doing well, with a dozen to be released in September.
"The problems are serious, but the hope is there," he said. "If we act now we can save these species."
Farmer and George Wallace (vice president of oceans and islands) from the American Bird Conservancy will be at the following World Conservation Congress events:
> ABC Pavilion Talks: Saving Hawaiian Birds. Concrete Actions to Prevent Further Extinctions.
> ABC Pavilion Talks: Overcoming Conflicts to Save Hawaii's Native Birds
> Revive & Restore Workshop, Genetic Rescue: Can new genomic tools solve conservation problems such as exotic wildlife diseases and destructive invasive species?
> Revive & Restore Pavilion, Stamping Out Alien Mosquitoes in Hawaii: Can new technology stop avian malaria from driving Hawaii's native birds to extinction?
> ABC Poster: Hawaii's Native Birds at the Crossroads