Death of bird could doom rare species


SAN DIEGO - The only captive member of what might be the world's most endangered species of bird has died in Hawaii, according to zoo officials.

The death of the male po'ouli at a Maui conservation center came less than three months after its capture. Only two other po'ouli are known to exist, both in Maui's dense rain forest.

Bird specialists had hoped to capture one or both of the other birds to assist in a captive breeding program. That effort has been unsuccessful.

Alan Lieberman, the San Diego Zoo's avian conservation coordinator, said the chances for survival of the species were "infinitesimally small" after the bird's sudden death Friday.

The tiny carcass has been shipped to the zoo for tests to determine the cause of death. The effort to save the po'ouli is run jointly by the San Diego Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The po'ouli is the size of a hummingbird. Its natural habitat has been ravaged by development and by feral pigs, goats, rats and the Indian mongoose.

After the male bird was caught in mid-September, it was taken to the Maui Bird Conservation Center, operated by the San Diego Zoo. Lieberman said his hunch was that the bird, thought to be at least 8 years old, died of old age.

"We are not willing to give up all hope yet" of saving the species, said Eric VanderWerf, Hawaiian bird recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Lieberman said that even if the po'ouli do not survive, the high-profile campaign to save the species was beneficial to public understanding of for 31 other endangered bird species in Hawaii.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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