Success Stories

Hawaiian Birds

“The back-up generator kicked in, as planned, to provide warmth to the eggs in incubators and chicks in brooders. But it is 3 a.m., and under the pale illumination of the emergency lights, Jeremy Hodges and I are gathered around an egg in the process of hatching. But this chick is badly positioned in the egg and struggling to hatch for itself. Gently, we meticulously peel back fragments of eggshell, checking for active blood vessels and unretracted yolk sac. Very carefully, we free the chick’s head and cautiously remove its body from the shell. Walking back to the house through the inky-black Hawaiian night, we are delighted to have hatched another ‘alala chick that represents more than one percent of the world population. I pat Jeremy on the back and grin, ‘Just another day at the office’.” 
— Richard Switzer, Conservation Program Manager, Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, San Diego Zoo Global


Every day, scientists at San Diego Zoo Global are faced with the challenge of how to recover and restore those individual gems in the treasure chest of the world’s imperiled habitats:  endangered species. Nowhere does this hold more true than Hawaii, where we are left with but a remnant of what once was. But there is reason for hope. Since the early 1990s, our Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has been rescuing the rarest of the rare, buying precious time for public agencies to identify, manage, and restore the birds’ native habitat.

Considered to be extinct in the wild with no confirmed sightings since 2002, the `alala or Hawaiian crow has a captive population as a safety net, unlike many of the less fortunate Hawaiian bird species that have disappeared forever. San Diego Zoo Global has partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife to bring the `alala back from the brink of extinction. The species has proven exceptionally challenging to breed, with our efforts hindered by disappointing hatching rates and congenital abnormalities. Fortunately, 2011 was a record-breaking year; we produced 19 healthy young chicks, increasing the world’s `alala population to a new high of 95 individuals.

During the in the mid-1990s, Kauai’s puaiohi thrush was clinging to survival by a thread. Little was known about the remaining population, the birds were scarcely seen, and the population was estimated at no more than 300 birds. Beginning with the carefully planned harvest of a few precious eggs from the wild, today we have hatched more than 350 puaiohi chicks and released 200 back into their native habitat, bringing the puaiohi population up to 500 to 800 birds. 

Since 1996, we have hatched 395 nene (pronounced nay-nay) goslings and released 442 geese to the wild, augmenting populations on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, and establishing an entirely new population birds in Molokai. Testament to our success, the nene population throughout Hawaii has now risen to nearly 2,000 birds.