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Critically endangered Hawaiian bird brought back from brink of extinction: 'An exciting, collaborative victory'

"The population increase on Laysan will help protect this species' future."

"The population increase on Laysan will help protect this species’ future."

Photo Credit: American Bird Conservancy

After decades of conservation initiatives, a bird species native to Hawaiʻi was officially saved from near extinction.

The ulūlu (aka the Nīhoa Millerbird) was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in December. Chris Farmer, the American Bird Conservancy's Hawaiʻi program director, told Hawaiʻi Public Radio that the project is an "exciting, collaborative victory for Hawaiian conservation." 

The ulūlu is endemic to the northwestern Hawaiian islands of Nīhoa and Laysan. According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Laysan ulūlu population went extinct in the early 1900s after invasive plant, insect, and animal species were introduced to their ecosystem.

Conservationists have spent years working to prevent the ulūlu's extinction. More than a decade ago, a small number of ulūlu were transported to Laysan from Nīhoa island in an attempt to restore the extinct population. The relocation project was a success and is considered to have greatly contributed to the ulūlu's reclassification from critical endangerment. Experts estimate that there are now several hundred ulūlu living on Laysan today, as reported by the Star Advertiser.

The ulūlu is one of several animal species that are no longer at severe risk of extinction. However, the species still has a long way to go to be untouched by conservation threats. In recent years, federal funding cuts for Florida manatee protection initiatives have raised concerns that the marine animal may again be on the brink of extinction.

However, Hawaiʻi-based conservation experts are determined to continue fighting for the ulūlu's future.

"The population increase on Laysan will help protect this species' future, and shows that long-term support and commitment can prevent extinctions of any other Hawaiian birds," Farmer told Hawaiʻi Public Radio

Hawaiians are also hopeful for the ulūlu's future. The bird was given its Hawaiian name in 2014 to honor local traditions.

"It was given this name [ulūlu], which means 'growing things,' with the hope that its population will continue to grow in the coming years," a press release from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument reads.

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