For Immediate Release, September 29, 2021

Contact:

Maxx Phillips, (808) 284-0007, mphillips@biologicaldiversity.org

9 Species From Hawaiʻi Lost to Extinction

HONOLULU— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to remove eight birds and a plant in Hawai‘i from the endangered species list because of extinction. They join the list of 650 U.S. species that have likely been lost to extinction.

The species being proposed for delisting include the Kauaʻi ʻakialoa, Kauaʻi nukupuʻu, Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, kāmaʻo or Large Kauaʻi thrush, Maui ākepa, Maui nukupuʻu, kākāwahie or Molokai creeper, poʻouli or black-faced honeycreeper, and Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis, a plant from the mint family that is found only in Hawai‘i.

“Of all the species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, nearly a third are Hawaiian,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While the Endangered Species Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99% of listed species, without urgency, proper funding and protected critical habitat, these nine species may be the canaries in the coal mines for our biodiversity in Hawai‘i. There is no bouncing back from extinction.”

The Service has been exceedingly slow to protect species. A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards. Several of the species in today’s announcement went extinct during a delay in the listing process. In total, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“It’s heartbreaking that Hawai‘i is known as the ‘extinction capital of the world,’” said Phillips. “Despite making up 30% of the nation’s listed species, our incredibly rare Hawaiian plants and animals receive less than 10% of the money appropriated for recovery.”

Nine months into his term, President Biden has yet to nominate a director for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He did request more than a $60 million increase for endangered species — the largest increase requested for the program in history — but the House Appropriations Committee undercut the president’s budget request by $17 million.

A 2016 study found that Congress only provides approximately 3.5% of the funding that the Service’s own scientists estimate is needed to recover species. Roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward recovery.

Two bills moving through Congress would increase protection and funding for endangered species.

The Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396) would create four grant programs that would provide $5 million per year to fund crucial conservation work for each of the most critically imperiled species in the United States, including Hawaiian plants.

The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would direct President Biden to declare the global wildlife extinction crisis a national emergency. The legislation would spur action across the entire federal government to stem the loss of animals and plants in the United States and around the world.

“As many of our species teeter on the brink of extinction, there’s no time to wait. The Endangered Species Act is a remarkably effective tool, but only if we use it. Extinction is a political choice, and our decision makers need to wake up and choose to protect life on Earth before it’s too late,” said Phillips.

Species Background

Kauaʻi ʻakialoa: The Kauaʻi ʻakialoa was a Hawaiian honeycreeper that lived only on the island of Kauaʻi. It was last seen in 1965. Its body was about 7.5 inches long, and the bird had a very long downcurved bill that spanned one third its body length. The ʻakialoa became extinct because of introduced avian diseases from mosquitos and habitat loss.

Kauaʻi nukupuʻu: This stout, short-tailed, medium-sized honeycreeper had a long, decurved bill, with the upper mandible about twice as long as the lower. The male was mostly bright-yellow with olive upperparts, white undertail coverts and a strongly defined black mask and bill. Females were mostly olive-gray above and whitish below, with yellowish highlights in the face, wings, and tail. It was lost to habitat destruction and invasive species.

Kauaʻi ʻōʻō: This small black-and-yellow songbird’s distinctive bell-like call was last heard in 1987. It went extinct because of habitat destruction and the introduction of rats, pigs and mosquitoes. It was the last surviving member of the Mohoidae family and represents the only complete extinction of an entire avian family in modern times.

Kāmaʻo: Also known as the Large Kauaʻi thrush, the kāmaʻo was 8 inches in length with a brownish olive body and gray belly. Its bill and legs were dark, and it fed primarily on fruit and insects. Once considered the most common bird on Kauaʻi, the kāmaʻo was last seen in 1987.

Maui ākepa: The Maui ākepa was a small, 4-inch-long, dusty-green songbird with a small cross bill. Its beautiful call was a quivering whistle ending with a long trill. Maui ‘ākepa were last seen in 1988 and heard in 1995.

Maui nukupuʻu: This small, 5-inch-long bird was found in high-elevation mesic and wet forests of ʻōhiʻa lehua and koa trees. Its inch-long bill was used to peck for insects in the bark of these native trees. The last confirmed sighting was in 1896.

Kākāwahie: Also known as the Molokaʻi creeper, the kākāwahie was 5 inches in length and described as either bright red or bright orange with dark wings and tail feathers said to resemble the appearance of flames. Its call sounding like someone chipping or cutting wood. Hawaiians traditionally used the kākāwahie’s red feathers for the capes and leis of aliʻi (royalty). It was last sighted in montane wet forest at ʻŌhiʻalele Plateau in 1963.

Poʻouli: Also known as the black-faced honeycreeper, poʻouli were once thought to exist in the hundreds on Maui. It inhabited only the very wet, easternmost side of Maui, where it rapidly decreased in numbers because of habitat loss, mosquito-borne diseases, predation by invasive species and a decline in the native tree snails that the bird relied on for food. With extinction threatening, efforts were made to capture birds to enable them to breed in captivity. In 2004 the last three poʻouli died in captivity. The poʻouli might be alive today if conservation efforts had received proper funding.

Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis: This species of flowering plant in the mint family was endemic to Hawaiʻi. It had red-tinged or red vein green leaves and white flowers that were occasionally tinged with purple. It was last seen on the island of Lānaʻi in 1914.

RSPo'ouli_DOFAW_FPWC.jpg
Po'ouli. Photo by Hawai'i DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.