Endangered Species Day: A Last Chance To See Committment

For those of you who don't know, today is Endangered Species Day. Started in the US Senate, Endangered species day is observed every year on the third Friday in May. The point is to call attention to all the animals that are at risk of disappearing forever. The fact of the matter is, we're losing species at an unprecedented rate. Of the 47,978 species that have been described by the IUCN, 17,315 of those are endangered, and for most of the planet's species, there simply isn't enough data to tell.

For my part, I'm making a commitment. I have about five years at least to spend on these Hawaiian islands, and I intend to make the most of it. Hawaii is unique in that these island harbor one of the highest rates of endemism in the world - that means we have more animals that are only found here than anywhere else. It's a biodiversity hotspot. But Hawaii's creatures are under extreme threat. Despite extensive conservation efforts, many of Hawaii's native species are on the verge of extinction. Hawaii has more endangered species than any other state, species pushed to the edge due to hunting, habitat loss, and competition with invasive species (it's estimated that an invasive species is introduced here every week).

For those of you who have read Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine, you'll understand the sentiment of my commitment (and for those who haven't, get reading). In my years here, I promise to do whatever I can to document the following species. They are all endangered, and present here on the islands or in the water surrounding them. I will be a witness to their beauty and share them with you. There will be pictures, and funny stories about how I manged to see them all. All I know is this might be my last chance to see them, and I won't give up that chance easily.

The List

  • The Hawaiian Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus semotus). Known as `Ope`ape`a to the native Hawaiians, it's one of only two mammal species to make it the 2500 or so miles across the ocean. I've seen them around, but I promise pictures - good ones.
  • The Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi). This small seal is of them most critically endangered species of the planet. There are only a couple thousand or less left, and the numbers continue to drop. Again, I've seen one or two, but I haven't seen one where I want to see it most: the ocean. So I won't rest until I see one swimming freely in the habitat where it belongs.CHECK!
  • The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). All sea turtles are endangered, but some are easier to see than others here in Hawaii. Green sea turtles are everywhere, and I already have a ton of pictures of them. But their cousins, the hawksbills, are much harder to find. Since 1970, more than one million hawksbill turtles have been illegally killed for their shells. In Hawai'i, nesting currently occurs on the islands of Hawai'i, Maui, Moloka'i, and O'ahu, though I've never seen one here. The coastline of Kau on Hawai'i and a black sand beach at the river mouth of Halawa Valley on Moloka`i are supposed to be the most consistently used nesting beaches, so I may start there.
  • The 'Akepa (Loxops coccineus). The 'Akepa is one of the many species of native Hawaiian birds under seige by habitat loss and invasive species. I've seen the ones on Oahu, but those ones aren't endangered, so I'll have to catch a glimpse of one on Maui or Hawaii for it to count.
  • The Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis). Better known as the NÄnÄ, the Hawaiian goose almost went extinct due to hunting and the introduction of the Indian mongoose to the islands. I've seen them, in the zoo, but only wild encounters count for my pledge.
  • The Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius). The Hawaiian Hawk, or 'lo, is the one of two native raptors in Hawaii. Though once found throughout the islands, it's last refuge is on the big island. They're really rare in the wild - this will be a tough one.
  • The Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis). This is the only other native raptor - the endemic owl. It is a subspecies of Short-eared owl, and was revered by the ancient Hawaiians as is one of the various nÄ Ê»aumÄkua (ancestor spirits). Another really hard one to find.
  • The Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alai). This endemic wetlands bird is fighting for its life, with The Makalawena Marsh on the Big Island of HawaiÊ»i one of its last nesting areas. Lucky for me, I know someone who will be studying them, so I hope to get up-close and personal!

There are some not-endangered species I'd also love to see, like the ʻIʻiwi or Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper (Vestiaria coccinea). It's rare in its lineage in that it hasn't been pushed near or to extinction yet, and is one of the most plentiful species of this family. It's the third most common native land bird in the Hawaiian Islands.

You'll notice that most of these are birds - that's because most of the ecological niches on the islands were filled with the species that could reach them, and the only ways here are by air and sea. I've left out a number of endangered birds, mostly because there are over 30 of them, and my PhD involves diving, not hiking, so I have to spend some of my time in the water. If you want a more complete list of the endangered species that can be found in Hawaii, check out the Fish and Wildlife Service's.

Almost all of the mammals now found on Hawaii were introduced, either unintentionally or intentionally, for game or other reasons. That said, I will add one species to my list that isn't native, but to be fair, it is extremely rare here:

  • The Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). Rock wallabies were released by accident when brought to become a part of the zoo here. Amazingly, from only 3 individuals, an entire population has sprung up. The population is small and little is known about it, though the wallabies don't seem to cause any visible harm to the ecosystem here. Since they're not a nuisance or a damaging invasive, the state really had no idea what to do with them. For the most part they were just ignored, though now (I believe) they are protected. They're only found in Kalihi Valley on the island of Oahu. I cannot resist the chance to see a wallaby, even if it's not a native or endangered species.

So those are my species. I will document them whatever way I can, and share with you these unique animals, so that the world can see what Hawaii may be losing.


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Your best bet for hawksbills is on the Big Island beginning in July and lasting through November. Halape, a really cool beach in Volcanoes National Park backcountry, is probably the most prolific and accessible, just pick up a permit at the park. Most of the other productive beaches are in private property, like Pohue and Kamehame, and behind locked gates.

The Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby is near-threatened in its homeland and extinct in some parts of its former range. I'm glad there's a little reserve of them in Hawaii...

Wallabies were released in NZ, too, and established themselves. I understand they've been shipped back to Australia on occasion to bolster endangered populations - here, they're quite common in some parts.

Not to belittle the Hawaiian Monk Seal, but a couple of thousand seems quite a luxurious buffer when compared to the situations some species here in NZ are in... in other words, our endangered species are more endangered than your endangered species! So there! (to be fair, numbers for most of them are rising quite quickly considering their generally slow breeding rates, so the Monk Seal might "catch up" [catch down?] on them soon enough)

Glad to see a sciblogger based here in Hawaii!

Late last November, I was able to take a short clip of a monk seal swimming up toward a haul-out spot on Kaena Point. It's not the best quality, if anything you can use it as a plan, uhhh, Z if nothing else works...

I'iwi on Oahu are in pretty bad shape. Possibly extinct, but I'm not sure what the official status is now.

You are certain you saw and 'Akepa here? I thought they went extinct here on Oahu.

There is also a breeding population of about 50 Hawaiian Coots at the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe. It's breeding season now so you should be able to see them. In fact, I want to go too!

Can I suggest the rarer Achatinella spp? I'd actually like to see the flightless cranefly Limonia hardyana myself. Although, I guess there are way too many to add to that list unfortunately.

And next time you're at the Honolulu Zoo, say hello! I volunteer in the aviary every Saturday.

By Sebastian Marquez (not verified) on 28 May 2010 #permalink