Speaking of birds (below), a friend of mine named Alvin Powell has written a book that is worth your consideration. Here's the story from the press release announcing the book, which is available on Amazon. By the way -- to keep this related to this blog -- I am told that the final bird got a fair amount of health care right at the end of its life!
A new book chronicling the decline and likely extinction of an American forest bird draws lessons for future conservation efforts as the world faces a growing extinction crisis.
The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po‘ouli is a fast-paced scientific adventure story of heartbreaking importance. Part Shakespearean tragedy, part case study, it details the struggle of biologists to save a small, black-masked bird in treacherous, soaking forests thousands of feet up the steep sides of Maui’s Haleakala volcano.
The bird, called a po‘ouli, a Hawaiian name meaning "black-faced," was discovered in 1973 by college students studying the volcano’s dense, unexplored rain forest. In the mid-1990s, with just three individuals remaining, it became the world’s rarest bird. The last known of these quiet, inquisitive birds died in a breeding center in 2004.
"We’re in the midst of a global extinction crisis," said author Alvin Powell. "Thousands of species are declining and in danger. If we can learn from history and understand why we failed to save this species, we have a better chance to succeed with others."
Powell is a veteran journalist and senior science writer at Harvard University. In researching the story, Powell visited the bird’s forest home with a team of biologists and interviewed dozens of people who crossed paths with it, including those who discovered it, tried to save it, and were there when it drew its final breath.
Though the po‘ouli (pronounced poh-oh-OO-lee) was declared endangered soon after it was discovered, years went by before it was the focus of meaningful conservation efforts. During those years, the bird was beset by introduced rats, pigs, and disease-bearing mosquitoes. By the early 1990s, scientists realized the bird was on the brink of extinction and stepped up efforts to study and conserve the species. They fenced in miles of tangled, inaccessible forest, a task some thought impossible. They poisoned invasive rats and trapped the birds in hopes of encouraging the last few to breed. The last known po‘ouli died in captivity awaiting a mate.
"Biologists used all the tools available to them but not in time," Powell said. "It was first too little – for years nothing was done – and then too late. The most important lesson to draw from the po‘ouli’s story is to act now. Species that are similarly endangered around the world can’t wait for us to get around to taking action. The forces squeezing these species out of existence – invasive plants and animals, loss of habitat, environmental change – are not taking a break while we think about what to do and whether to do it."
The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird also examines the debate about captive breeding as a conservation tool and highlights the successes and failures of the Endangered Species Act, one of the most significant conservation laws in U.S. history. The fate of hundreds of species rests on the act’s successful implementation.