The last three po'ouli birds known to exist will be brought into captivity in what officials describe as a last-ditch effort to save the species from extinction.
Last-ditch effort tries
to save rare bird
"If we do not bring them in now, they may never be seen again," said Michael Buck, administrator of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
"Without intervention, they're doomed," said Paul Henson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Islands office in Honolulu.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Zoological Society of San Diego are working together to try to save the po'ouli.
The three birds live in separate home ranges within 1 1/2 miles of each other in the dense rain forest of the state's Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on the northeast slopes of Haleakala on Maui. But scientists believe they have never met.
Efforts earlier this year to bring two of the birds closer together were successful, but they did not breed.
"We decided that if we didn't intervene, these birds might never find each other and the species would go extinct," Henson said.
"Maintaining and breeding the po'ouli in captivity will be the ultimate avicultural challenge, to say the least," said Alan Lieberman, avian conservation coordinator from the Zoological Society.
"The po'ouli may have too few surviving individuals from which to start building a healthy breeding population, but we have to try."
The po'ouli, or Hawaiian honeycreeper, may be the rarest bird on Earth. The last known breeding occurred about five years ago.
The small, stocky brown forest bird has a partially black face described as a bandit's mask. Its Hawaiian name means "black-faced."
It was first identified in 1973 in the upper rain forest of East Maui by students on a University of Hawaii expedition. Their population then was estimated at 200.
The federal and state agencies and the San Diego zoo in partnership have developed a successful program for the captive propagation and reintroduction of some of Hawaii's most critically endangered forest bird species.
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