Palila birds might get a second chance

Published On: Apr 15 2013 09:35:59 AM HST   Updated On: Apr 14 2013 07:36:38 AM HST

The Palila bird is approaching extinction. Part of the reason is because of sheep that have been eating their habitat. Now the birds may get a second chance at life thanks to aerial sheep hunts that are back on.

A federal court order has allowed the Department of Land and Natural Resources to continue moving forward with efforts to save the endangered bird. In the last 10 years the population has dropped 66 percent. Now according to conservationists only 2,200 of the creatures are left, and the species is on the brink of extinction.

"Even in recent times there used to be birds on Mauna Loa and on Mauna Kea, so now the bird is down to only 5 percent of the habitat it had," said conservationist David Henkin.

Conservationists have been trying to save the bird for 30 years, but the birds' population continued to decline when a county ordinance last year stopped the DLNR from aerial hunts of grazing mammals that were destroying the birds' habitat. Now the state's hunt is back on.  

"The bird gets 90 percent of its food from the Mamane. It eats the seeds, it eats the caterpillars on the seeds, so without the seeds the birds cannot survive," said Henkin.

"The federal judge ruled that the county ordinance prohibiting or making it a criminal activity to aerial shoot is no longer in standing," explained William Aila with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The DLNR is building a 24-mile fence around the area to protect the birds' habitat and enclose the sheep and the other grazing mammals. The sheep and other mammals in the fenced area will be captured and released or killed. Hunters are not in support of these efforts, they want to hunt the sheep themselves.

"Hunters objected that they did not want the state to shoot all the sheep. They felt that it was wasteful, they felt that they needed the opportunity to shoot the sheep," said Aila.

However, the DLNR said the area is not open to the public, and not affecting hunters.

The DLNR said most of the fence will be completed within two years. There are still hundreds of sheep left for the department to capture.


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