One-of-a-kind facility saves native birds, teaches 'nature's cycle

By Lara Yamada
Published On: May 14 2013 06:56:00 PM HST

Open for less than a year he Hawaii Wildlife Center on the Big Island is getting it's feet wet helping injured native birds fly again.

KAPA`AU, Hawaii -

Arriving on its own private ride from Kauai to the Big Island's North Kohala coast is Red-Footed Booby.

Volunteers wrapped his wounded wing in red tape.

It's the Hawaii Wildlife Center's first official patient.

Open for less than a year, the center is the only all-encompassing, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility in Hawaii and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands serving exclusively native birds.

Combined, rehabilitator Judi Ellal and center director Linda Elliott have spent dozens of years helping wildlife worldwide, but they say they saw a need in Hawaii.

Staff members take in birds that are often flown here by a volunteer pilots free of charge.

"It's a good thing when they come in, because we know we're going to treat them, but the birds that come in are sick or injured," said executive assistant Jojo Genovia.

"We have a lot of community support and that has helped us from the beginning," said development coordinator Rae Okawa.

An overflow pool is one of the last things staffers place the birds before they releasing them in the wild.

It is to make sure seabirds can be out in the open ocean, be on water for long periods of time, and maintain the ability to be waterproof, which is essential to their survival.

The staff videotaped the Red-Footed Booby stretching its wings in a conditioning pool -- a true sign of recovery.

"They're bathing and having a ball! That's my favorite thing to watch," said Okawa.

And there are other success stories: a Black-Winged Petrel, a Wedge-Tailed Shearwater bobbing, and Sooty Shearwater all bobbing about in the pool, preparing for a flight back home.

There's much more to be done.

About a half an hour from the center, Ellal gages native populations at Pololu Valley.

She knows the numbers overall are dwindling.

She said out of Hawaii's 113 native species 71 are now extinct.

"Anything that happens with wildlife will often be our first indication of something going wrong in our ecosystem," said Ellal.

"It's really nice to see how full it's getting," said Genovia.

Their efforts go beyond birds.

Staffer Jojo Genovia nurses the center's native plants garden, teaching school kids about the cycle they're helping to preserve.

"So, without the birds there wouldn't be a lot of the greenery that we have here," she said.

Within months, sometimes weeks, nature's cycle comes full circle.

Many of the volunteer pilots who leave know they'll be back.

In their mission to help Hawaii's birds, once again, take flight.

"You know you've done your part, and a little bit of you goes off with that bird," said Genovia.

The Hawaii Wildlife Center also accepts the Hawaiian hoary bat.

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