March 1, 2019 Calgary Zoo

Flying Free Again: Experts discuss reintroduction of Guam Kingfisher 30 Years After Extinction in the Wild

 30 Years After Extinction in the Wild, Guam Kingfisher On the Way to Flying Free Again

Conservation experts from around the world gathered at a workshop in Guam earlier this month to begin planning the next steps in the recovery of the Guam kingfisher and its return to the wild.

Thirty years ago, the Guam kingfisher (sihek in the Chamorro language) was driven to the very brink of extinction. Once common throughout Guam, the carnivorous bird’s population declined rapidly following the introduction of the brown tree snake – an invasive species that devastated the island’s native bird population. A handful of siheks were brought into captivity by biologists, a decision that ultimately saved the species now extinct in the wild.

Thanks to intensive and innovative efforts by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the handful of rescued sihek has become 137 in breeding programs. Scientists and experts from Guam, federal agencies, and international conservation organizations have been working to further the recovery of the bird and evaluating the next steps for the recovery of the sihek.

Included in the discussions earlier this month was Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Director of Conservation and Science at the Calgary Zoo and chair of the IUCN’s Conservation Translocation Specialist Group. Dr. Moehrenschlager’s extensive experience with reintroduction science was key to these discussions on the future conservation efforts for the species.

“Returning the sihek to the wild is of profound ecological and cultural value,” said Dr. Moehrenschlager. “Success after 30 years of extinction in the wild would signify that immense challenges can be overcome when sound science is coupled with courageous action.”

Just two species of native forest birds remain on Guam, and successful recovery of the sihek to their native habitat could inspire similar recovery initiatives for other forest birds that were once on Guam. The workshop participants, including representatives from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoological Society of London, US Department of Defense, The Nature Conservancy, Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, Durrell, and the indigenous Chamorro people, will be coming to the Calgary Zoo next fall for the final planning workshop.

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