UH Hilo researchers awarded $50,000 for their work on Hawaiian crow conservation

The $50K award came from the Disney Conservation Fund, which supports local efforts around the world aimed at saving wildlife, inspiring action, and protecting the planet.

ʻAlalā in flight, ID bands on legs, wings full spread in flight.
One of the recently released ʻalalā. Photo San Diego Zoo Global.

A University of Hawai‘i at Hilo research team, working to save the critically endangered ʻalalā or Hawaiian crow from extinction, has received a $50,000 award from the Disney Conservation Fund. The fund supports local efforts around the world aimed at saving wildlife, inspiring action, and protecting the planet.

An endemic species that was once found in forests throughout Hawai‘i, the ʻalalā has been extinct in the wild since 2002. Through conservation efforts, 16 ʻalalā raised in captivity have been released into native forests, representing what conservationists hope will be the start of a self-sustaining population of wild ʻalalā. It is unknown whether birds raised in captivity have or can learn the social behaviors needed to live in the wild.

Kristina Paxton
Kristina Paxton

“Establishing a self-sustaining wild population of ʻalalā will require flexible and innovative management strategies,” says Kristina Paxton, an adjunct assistant professor at the UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program and a postdoctoral researcher in biology. “Thanks to this $50,000 award from the Disney Conservation Fund, we will be able to do intensive research in collaboration with the ʻAlalā Project, a partnership between Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, San Diego Zoo Global, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to find out if captive reared ʻalalā are developing new vocalizations as they adapt to new situations encountered in the wild. This information will greatly assist in the conservation efforts of ʻalalā.”

ʻAlalā have complex and diverse vocalizations that are acquired through social learning over a bird’s lifetime. These vocalizations play an integral role in behaviors including avoiding predators, attracting a mate, and establishing a territory. By researching the vocalizations and associated behaviors, teams working to save the ʻalalā will be able to better shape successful re-entry into the wild.

The award will also help build community awareness around the importance of forest conservation for ʻalalā and other endangered forest birds and plants.

Patrick Hart
Patrick Hart

“Our work is perfectly suited for education and outreach by bringing the sounds of the forest to the people,” says Patrick Hart, a UH Hilo biology professor collaborating on the project.

Hart founded the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems, one of the UH Hilo labs working on ʻalalā conservation. “We will use the findings of our research to highlight conservation and science through the story of the ʻalalā and their vocal culture,” says Hart. “By partnering with existing outreach programs such as the ʻAlalā Project’s outreach and education program, we will be able to share our conservation messages with the local community through interactive audio-visual displays, and presentations.”


Media release


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