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Auckland Zoo And The Polynesian Ornithological Society Achieve First Breakthrough For Bird On The Brink

The world population of the critically endangered Fatu Hiva monarch has risen to 20 birds following the successful rescue and hand-rearing of a now five-week-old chick by conservation partners the Polynesian Ornithological Society (SOP Manu) and Auckland Zoo.

On 2 February, as part of a SOP Manu/Auckland Zoo emergency conservation partnership to help save the endemic bird on French Polynesia’s Fatu Hiva Island, a five-day-old (14 gram) chick was removed from a precariously tilting tree nest to prevent it from falling.

The vital intervention for the wild chick and this most endangered of species (its population has just five breeding pairs!) is a first. It follows 10 unsuccessful breeding attempts by four Fatu Hiva pairs during 2023, and the partnership’s first ex-situ (outside of the wild) efforts to rear chicks from incubated eggs hatched in its purpose-built intensive management facility on the island.

“This chick - promisingly from one of the youngest breeding females (four years), is a small but very exciting step in our race to save one of the world’s rarest bird species from extinction,” says SOP Manu Fatu Hiva monarch programme coordinator Ben Ignace.

“It’s been a titanic and exacting task, and the result of great teamwork,” says SOP Manu biologist Chiara Ciardiello, who with the help of volunteer Stella Jorgensen has been responsible for hand-rearing the chick.

“In its first weeks, to ensure the chick received its required daily food intake - the equivalent of half its body weight – we were feeding it every 30 minutes from 5am to 10pm! It now weighs almost 40 grams (nearing an adult weight) and is close to fledging, but we still have a long way to go. With the support and expertise of Auckland Zoo, we’ll be continuing with the same rigorous approach we’ve been taking to give this young bird every chance to flourish, and we hope, reach adulthood and be able to contribute to its species’ future,” says Chiara.

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Auckland Zoo curator of birds Dr Juan Cornejo, who is leading the partnership’s ex-situ intensive management project, says this latest achievement – a first for this genus of flycatchers - is a promising breakthrough after an incredible amount of work by the team over the past year.

“Having malaria confirmed as a new risk to the species, our approach has been to collect eggs from wild nests for incubating to safeguard newly hatched chicks from malaria-carrying mosquitos and give them the best possible start to life. We’ve had three chicks successfully hatch at between just 3.6 grams to 4.8 grams that unfortunately survived only a few days. We’re now waiting on pathology results from these birds which will contribute to helping us decide our next and best steps going forward.

“With our SOP Manu colleagues, we’re constantly assessing and reviewing our methods and actions. The stakes are always going to be especially high when dealing with exquisitely tiny newly hatched chicks, but this recent success with a five-day-old bird gives us great confidence that we’re on the right track,” explains Juan.

“For Auckland Zoo, it’s a real privilege to be involved in this SOP Manu project and working with such a passionate and dedicated group of individuals to try and turn things around for the Fatu Hiva, whose wild population has remained perilously small and static.”

Once fledged, this newest addition to the Fatu Hiva population will be moved from its brooder to an outdoor aviary on the island, screened to protect it from mosquitos, and therefore malaria.

Fatu Hiva conservation efforts screening on Wild Heroes (Series 2)
The television wildlife documentary ‘Wild Heroes’ (on three and threenow.co.nz) - all about Auckland Zoo - including the conservation mahi its staff do with conservation partners throughout Aotearoa and beyond, features a Fatu Hiva story on Sunday 16 March (7pm).

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