by James Poulos
Four of the world’s rarest bird species are once again growing in number thanks to Pacific Island conservation efforts.
If you’re an endangered flightless bird living in the South Pacific, 2018 is already shaping up to be your year. This is, in no small way, thanks to an unprecedented collaborative effort among groups ranging from environmental organizations to successful app game developers.
In what’s regarded as one of the standout conservation achievements of the last year, Alopecoenas erythropterus — the Polynesian ground dove — has been rescued from extinction at the hands of invasive mammalian predators (read: rats) introduced over time by waves of human visitors.
The dove, known locally by the euphonious moniker “ tutururu,” had bottomed out at under 200 remaining, hitting the critically endangered list in 2013. And it wasn’t the only imperiled bird in Polynesia. Along with the Tuamotu sandpiper, aka Prosobonia cancellata, the tutururu now enjoys twice the stable habitat it did before the restoration team tackled the crisis.
Victory didn’t come easy. The massive operation to bring the birds back from the brink required the combined efforts of NGOs like BirdLife International and Island Conservation, corporations like Bell Labs and Tomcat, and public and private stakeholders ranging from island property owners to the French Polynesian government. The logistical and financial scope of the project even attracted the help of Rovio, the company behind the popular game Angry Birds.
While beating back the rat population, the conservation team had to focus on flora as well as fauna. In one especially troublesome instance, the inhospitable lantana plant was strangling environments once supported by island forests, which expanding coconut plantations had spent years clearing away.