AL-SHEEHANIYA, Qatar — Cobalt-plumed and flapping, Jewel, a young Spix’s macaw, hops into a plastic bowl. She’s well trained in the routine. Her handler, Ryan Watson, sets the bowl on a scale. He’s pleased. The 4-month-old parrot is growing.
If Jewel continues to thrive, Watson will soon move her and a companion — a second young macaw shrieking at the far end of the pair’s long enclosure — to a larger aviary, where they will flock with others of their kind.
Though the distance of the move will be short, it has far-reaching implications: It will foster fledgling hope that this rarest of parrots can be saved. Just 76 of the handsome blue birds — endemic to northern Brazil but unseen there in 11 years — are known to exist, all in captivity. Watson was hired by a member of Qatar’s royal family, Sheik Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani, to rescue the species from the edge of extinction and send it soaring back into the Brazilian jungle.
It’s an audacious plan in an improbable locale, this oil-and-gas-rich kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula. With no signs marking it in the flat, arid landscape, a fenced private wildlife compound extends across 1.6 square miles about 20 miles west of the capital, Doha.
Al-Wabra Wildlife Preservation began as a private menagerie with a questionable past. But it has been transformed into an intensive conservation operation.
The Hawaii state bird is an endangered species, constantly threatened by mongoose, dogs, rats and other introduced animals even as they cope with the loss of grasslands and forests to development.
But nene geese have found a safe home among the green golf course fairways and ponds of a Kauai resort, and they are thriving — exploding from just 18 birds in 1999 to some 400 today.
In fact, the population at Kauai Lagoons has grown so fast and large the geese are now considered the threat. They pose a public safety hazard to the commercial airliners taking off and landing at the airport next door, forcing the state to scramble to devise a plan to move them somewhere else.
“With the numbers that are nesting, it’s just like, boy there are going to be more and more birds there,” said Paul Conry, administrator of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “If we don’t take action now, they will even get higher and higher in the future.”
The dangers geese present to airplanes became well known after a flock of Canada geese crossed paths with a US Airways plane over New York City in 2009, knocking out both engines and forcing the pilot to bring the aircraft down in the Hudson River.
Similar incidents have caused deaths: 24 airmen in Alaska were killed when a flock of Canada geese got sucked into the left side engine of an Air Force plane in 1995. The jet crashed 43 seconds after takeoff.
Several years ago Rob Pacheco, president and founder of Hawaii island-based Hawaii Forest & Trail, took a van load of mainland doctors, all avid birders, to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. They were intent on spotting the akiapolaau, a bright yellow honeycreeper that was designated an endangered species in 1967. Although the group stayed out until dark, they were disappointed they weren’t able to see one.
The next day, Pacheco led a California family on their first-ever bird-watching excursion. As he was helping them step off lava rocks onto the fern-covered floor of a rain forest, he heard the song of an akiapolaau behind him. Turning quickly, he spotted the bird in a tree about 10 feet away.
“At the time it was the closest I had ever gotten to an akiapolaau,” Pacheco said. “It was so close that when it sang again, I could see its tongue! The grandmother in the group told me, ‘This is amazing! I’ve never seen a bird through binoculars before!’ I thought of the birders from the day before who really wanted to see an akiapolaau but didn’t — and here was a lady who probably would’ve been just as happy to be looking at a house sparrow. That’s how birding goes sometimes.”
“To see those species you need to be in habitats that can support them,”
State officials are developing plans to remove axis deer in Hawaii County before damage becomes significant to ranch grasslands, farm crops and plants that are vital to maintain watershed areas.
“We will need to take quick and effective action to prevent costly and destructive impacts on the Big Island that will last for generations, perhaps forever,” said William Aila, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Kahua Ranch Ltd. Chairman Monte Richards said axis deer can cause great damage to Hawaii island’s forest in Kohala and become difficult to remove once they’re established.
“The thing is to get to them early, and you’ve got a chance,” Richards said.
Richards said Hawaii island ranchers successfully fought against the idea of importing axis deer in the 1960s. He suspects the axis deer were illegally shipped to the island in recent years by someone who wanted the animal for game hunting.
State conservation officials working closely with trackers and using game cameras to survey areas in recent weeks have confirmed the presence of axis deer across the island, including in Kohala, Kau, Kona and Mauna Kea.
Some South Maui residents are upset about a developer’s plan to use a resort road through Wailea and Makena for construction truck access as it builds a wind farm on 120 acres of Ulupalakua Ranch land.
“It’s going to affect us economically,” said Bud Pikrone, general manager of the Wailea Community Association.
Pikrone said developer Auwahi Wind Energy LLC’s activities will create noise in a hotel and residential resort area and cause wear and tear on the roads.
Pikrone said in the last seven years, Wailea Alanui Road has had three sinkholes, including one that closed off an area for 18 months.
He said various large landowners plan to hold a meeting with Auwahi Wind next month to discuss rerouting the truck traffic farther mauka and closer to Piilani Highway.
“We’re hoping we can come up with some resolution,” Pikrone said.
The Maui County Planning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday to review Auwahi Wind’s draft environmental impact statement.
Auwahi Wind needs the commission to accept its environmental impact statement before moving to seek land-use permits.
What began as a handful of wetland ponds with dozens of birds overlooking Pearl Harbor has turned into a refuge teeming with hundreds.
The number of native birds, including endangered Hawaiian stilts called ae o, in the ponds at Waiawa and Honouliuli at the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge has been rising since the early 1990s, when a conservation recovery plan was developed, said David Ellis, refuge project leader.
Federal wildlife officials built fences to help keep out predators and began controlling invasive plants and managing water in the ponds.
“There’s been a very noticeable increase,” Ellis said. “There used to be only a few wetland birds that used these ponds ; now we commonly see hundreds, an important step for endangered species.”
When might an endangered coral species not really be endangered?
When it’s not even a separate species, apparently.
Zac Forsman of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology recently led an investigation of genetic and structural features of Hawaiian corals within the common genus Montipora. And what they found could have serious implications for scores of rare corals currently being reviewed for enhanced protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Of the 83 corals being considered for endangered-species designation, nine are found in Hawaiian waters.
During their investigation, Forsman and his colleagues found that variances in colony shape, color and growth can cause some coral to be misidentified — a problem since coral species definitions are based on the coral skeleton.
According to UH, the study revealed two previously unknown species complexes in Hawaii, “showing that corals previously thought to be very rare may interbreed with more common species.”
A UH news release quoted Forsman as saying, “The scale of variation that corresponds to the species-level is not well understood in a lot of stony corals; this is a big problem for taxonomy and conservation. We need to determine if these species complexes contain species that are in the early process of forming, or if they just represent variation within a species. Either way, it could change our understanding of coral biodiversity.”
HONOLULU – Kaheawa Wind Power II’s draft habitat conservation plan and environmental assessment are available for public review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
Kaheawa Wind Power is a subsidiary of the Boston-based wind energy company First Wind, which already supplies windmill-generated electricity to Maui Electric Co.
Kaheawa Wind developed the draft habitat conservation plan in coordination with the service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as part of an application for an incidental take permit for endangered species.
The draft plan and environmental assessment are available for public review and comment for 30 days.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources will hear public testimony on the lease and grant of easement of public lands for Kaheawa Wind’s expansion beginning at 9 a.m. Friday at the county Department of Planning conference room at 250 S. High St. in Wailuku.
An incidental take permit is required when a development is likely to result in some harm to a threatened or endangered species. If approved, the permit would be in effect for 20 years.
The state plans to hold a public hearing this week on the Army’s plans for managing endangered plant and animal species in the Koolau and Waianae mountains.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is holding the meeting to gather public input before its board considers the Army’s application to manage lands zoned for conservation.
The hearing is scheduled to be held on Wednesday in Honolulu at the Board of Land and Natural Resources conference room at 1151 Punchbowl Street.
A copy of the Army’s Conservation District Use Application may be found on the department’s website at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr