Saving ʻAkikiki from Extinction Team Receives Recovery Champion Award

San Diego, California - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has presented a 2018 Recovery Champion Award to a team of conservationists who have been working to save a critically endangered Hawaiian bird. The Saving ‘Akikiki from Extinction Team—which includes members from San Diego Zoo Global, the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and USWFS—was recognized for their leadership in conservation of the ʻakikiki, a small bird also known as the Kauaʻi creeper.

“Conservation and recovery of our endangered species requires all of us to work together,” said Katherine Mullet, acting field supervisor, USFWS Pacific Islands Office. “The Saving ‘Akikiki from Extinction Team has made tremendous strides for the species. The hard work and dedication demonstrated by this team to overcome unique and challenging circumstances proved that they truly are recovery champions!”

Fewer than 500 ʻakikiki exist in the wild, and a panel of experts in Hawaiian forest bird conservation identified the initiation of conservation breeding as crucial to prevent extinction of ʻakikiki. Since 2015, the eggs of wild ʻakikiki have been collected to form the foundation of a conservation breeding population. Introduced diseases 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 Saving ‘Akikiki from Extinction Team was recognized for working tirelessly to prevent the extinction of the rarest forest bird on Kauaʻi, and for persevering 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, dedicated team members have collected eggs that have produced parent-raised chicks, cared for through San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai’I Endangered Bird Conservation Program. This ensures that future generations will remain wild birds when eventually reintroduced into their native forests. Currently, 45 ‘akikiki are thriving—the largest founding conservation breeding population of any native Hawaiian bird species.

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

Saving ‘Akikiki from Extinction Team members receiving the award are: Dr. Lisa Cali Crampton and Justin Hite of the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project, Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife; Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager at San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawaiʻi Endangered Bird Conservation Program; Angie Ray, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Bird Department; Jeremy Hodges, San Diego Zoo Global, Veterinary Services; Amy Klotz, formerly of San Diego Zoo Global; and Michelle Clark, John Vetter, Jay Nelson and Megan Laut of the USFWS Pacific Islands Office. Numerous staff members from the organizations nominated and their partners put in countless hours in support of this team, in addition to the names recognized with the award.

The team’s success was made possible through successful partnerships with San Diego Zoo Global, the Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project, the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Hawaiʻi, Pacific Rim Conservation, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Airborne Aviation, the Kauaʻi Invasive Species Committee, the Kauaʻi Agricultural Research Center, the Kauaʻi Watershed Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, the Kokeʻe Resource Conservation Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

As an international nonprofit organization, San Diego Zoo Global works to fight extinction through conservation efforts for plants and animals worldwide. With a history of leadership in species recovery and animal care, San Diego Zoo Global works with partners in science-based field programs on six continents, and maintains sanctuaries and public education facilities in many places. Inspiring a passion for nature is critical to saving species, and San Diego Zoo Global’s outreach efforts share the wonder of wildlife with millions of people every year. Current major conservation initiatives include fighting wildlife trafficking and the impacts of climate change on wildlife species; broad-spectrum species and habitat protection efforts in Kenya, in Peru and on islands worldwide; preventing extinction in our own backyard; and expanding efforts to bank critical genetic resources and apply them to the conservation of critically endangered species.