It’s November 3, 2013, Day 2 of the Maui Bird Conservation Center’s annual Open House. I’m standing in the back of the Great Hall, a large, open room filled with various posters, props, and exhibits designed to inform and educate guests about our contribution to the problem facing almost all native Hawaiian birds: the impending threat of extinction.
The Center is one of two facilities managed by the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, a joint partnership between San Diego Zoo Global, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife to prevent the extinction and promote recovery of endangered Hawaiian birds. Our sister facility, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, is on the Big Island. At our Center, we oversee the captive propagation and management of four native Hawaiian bird species: kiwikiu (Maui parrotbill), palila (a finch-billed honeycreeper), puaiohi (small Kauai thrush), and alala (Hawaiian crow). We work diligently, devoting every day of the year to preparing diets, cleaning aviaries, observing and recording detailed behavioral notes, and doing anything else necessary to guarantee every bird is thriving at our facility.
We worked tirelessly preparing for the Open House for months, cultivating an atmosphere that expresses a sense of urgency while simultaneously instilling feelings of hope for the future of these birds found only in Hawaii. We meticulously designed and constructed displays highlighting techniques like research, breeding processes, and incubation protocols. Posters exhibiting our success stories, including the successful captive propagation and release into the wild of over 440 nene (Hawaiian goose) and 222 puaiohi, as well as increasing the world’s alala population from 20 to 109 individuals, all proudly illustrate the depth of our program’s accomplishments.
Not all of our displays feature happy endings, however; as I’m standing in the Great Hall amid the throng of visitors, I peruse a poster describing the extinct po‘ouli, whose last known individual died in 2004 at our Center. While grim, this display serves as a somber reminder as to why programs such as ours are necessary to preserve native Hawaiian birds.
As I’m discussing the poster with a local Maui resident, I hear our research coordinator, Josh Kramer, speak up over the murmurs of the curious groups of guests. “If I could have everyone’s attention, we’d like to get started with our presentation.”
Guests, curious about our day-to-day operations, converge toward Josh and the projector displaying his PowerPoint presentation. Those just arriving hurriedly sign in at the door with Bryce Masuda, our program manager. Energetic youngsters file out of the Keiki Room, proudly clutching handmade bird-stamped bookmarks and crayon-colored pictures of native birds such as i‘iwi and apapane. Reporters and photographers representing local newspapers prepare to document the event for publication. Individuals, couples, and families of all ages converge together to listen to Josh. The crowd is made up of many locals as well as a few visitors from the mainland. Even the mayor of Maui, Alan Arakawa, is in attendance with his wife and staff.
As Josh begins his presentation highlighting the purpose of our program and facility from a historical and conservational perspective, I look to my side to see staff members and fellow interns taking in the scene. The look of confidence on their faces is admirable and contrasts slightly from the mood of the previous day. The first day of Open House can be quite stressful: months of preparation and agonizing over countless details lead up to a day in which we open our doors with baited breath, hoping that everything goes smoothly and that guests enjoy their visit. After the success of the first day, however, an air of intrepid assurance swept away any lingering anxiety, rekindling our morale, leaving us ready for anything.
After Josh finishes his presentation, Research Associate Samara Hunter, the mastermind behind this year’s Open House, ushers guests over toward the door in preparation for exploring the inner workings of the Center. Guests excitedly clutch their cameras in anticipation, as this is an excursion few people from the public are privileged to experience; since we are a captive propagation facility, we try to limit human presence as much as possible to maintain a private, stress-free environment for the native birds. Open House is our once-a-year opportunity to invite the public to experience and learn about our propagation program.
As the tour files out the door, I’m overcome with emotion as I realize how truly proud I am—proud that I’m able to call Maui my home, proud to be a part of the hard-working team conserving Hawaii’s native birds, and proud to be setting a stage of excitement and optimism for the future of Hawaii’s birds into the hearts and minds of locals and visitors.
Over 200 guests attended the two-day Open House this year, and tours were completely booked more than one week in advance. We graciously thank the following individuals and organizations that supported our 2013 Open House: Barbara Berg, Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery, Dusty James Bolyard, George Allan Studio, Hawaiian Fish Prints, Honua Kai Resort and Spa, Jake and Laurie Rohrer, Julie Houck, Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel, Karen Whitworth, Lahaina Cruise Company, Lahaina Printsellers, Mahina, Mandala, Maui Arts and Cultural Center, Maui Hands, Maui Paintball, Maui YMCA, Mama’s Fish House, Mike Neal Studios, Moonbow Tropics, Paia Inn, Pi‘iholo Zipline, The Plant Modern, Rachael Ray Au Hoon, Raliegh Timmins, Richard Blayne Walsh, Skyline Eco-Adventures, Stopwatch Bar and Grille, Tamara Catz Boutique, Tamara Tavernier, and Thee Salon.
Dominic D’Amico is an intern at the Maui Bird Conservation Center.