ʻAkikiki bird Photo credit: C Robby Kohley

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers from the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP) are part of the Saving ʻAkikiki from Extinction Team that was awarded the 2018 Recovery Champion Award by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for leadership in conservation of the endangered ʻakikiki.

Researchers Lisa “Cali” Crampton and Justin Hite have worked with the ʻakikiki, a small bird also known as the Kauaʻi creeper.

The KFBRP is a joint collaborative program between the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Pacific Studies Cooperative Unit in the UH Mānoa Department of Botany. Crampton has been KFBRP’s project leader since April 2010 and is also an affiliate faculty member in the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology graduate program at UH Mānoa.

Fewer than 500 ʻakikiki exist in the wild. Introduced disease such as avian malaria, as well as loss of native forest habitat, hurricanes and the introduction of non-native predator species like cats and rats, have all contributed to the decline of the species.

The team persevered through numerous challenging obstacles to successfully establish a conservation breeding population. To accomplish this, the team deployed helicopters, hiked with heavy ladders through dense forest and endured severe weather to collect tiny ʻakikiki eggs high in the forest canopy. Over the last four years, team members have collected eggs, reared and cared for 45 ʻakikiki for the first time in history. This is a monumental milestone for conservation breeding efforts for this species.

“This project epitomizes the conservation triumphs that can be realized through teamwork, creativity, and determination. On that note, I’d like to recognize all the many other people behind this award that labored in the field and conservation breeding centers to ensure the success of this effort,” said Crampton.

The team and its partners are also contributing to additional research and improvements in conservation rearing techniques for the ʻakikiki and similar rare bird species. Within their current range, habitat management and invasive species control will facilitate future releases of this rare bird back to the wild.

This team’s success was made possible through partnerships with San Diego Zoo Global and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others.