An `akikiki bird sits on a person’s fingers. Photo by Carter Atkinson, USGS, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The San Diego Zoo announced Wednesday that a group of its conservationists received an award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for efforts to recover and conserve the `akikiki, a small Hawaiian bird also called the Kauai creeper.

The FWS honored a conservation team including zoo conservationists and members of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife with the 2018 Recovery Champion Award for a multi-year effort to save the `akikiki from extinction. The team first began its conservation work in 2015.

According to the zoo, only 500 `akikiki exist in the wild. The species’ numbers have declined due to deforestation, hurricanes, disease and non-native predators like large cats and rats.

To reinvigorate the species, members of the conservation team collected `akikiki eggs in the forests of Kauai, which have been cared for by San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Through the breeding of parent-raised chicks at the zoo’s Hawaiian conservation centers, the team has produced 45 `akikiki to date.

“Conservation and recovery of our endangered species requires all of us to work together,” said Katherine Mullet, the acting field supervisor of the FWS’ Pacific Islands Office. “The hard work and dedication demonstrated by this team to overcome unique and challenging circumstances proved that they truly are recovery champions!”

In time, the team plans to continue breeding `akikiki and releasing them into the wild to rescue the species from the brink of extinction. According to the zoo, the 45 `akikiki make up the conservation center’s largest founding population of any native bird species.

City News Service