“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir Stepping out of our shiny red rental car when we arrived at our guest house in Volcano on Hawaii Island, I felt a calm come about me. The air seemed different, heavy with mist and clear at the same time. We most definitely were not in Honolulu any longer. I’d expected the sound of coqui frogs, so ubiquitous in Hawaii Island, yet at such a high elevation — almost 4000 feet above sea-level — they’re strikingly absent. The jarring sound of the coqui frogs was instead replaced with the stoic silence of the forest. Just a light breeze touched the leaves among the towering trees around the property, welcoming us to slow down, relax and to just breathe in the stillness. We’d come to Hawaii Island to meet with Heather Gallo-Simmons, Executive Director of the Hawaii Forest Institute, who was kind enough to arrange a visit for us to the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC), not normally open to the public. At the gate to the center, we met Bryce Masuda, Conservation Program Manager for the center.
Keauhou Bird Conservation Center
The KBCC sits on 155 acres of former ranch lands owned by Kamehameha Schools and leased to the San Diego Zoo. Established in 1995 as one of two captive propagation centers for the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, this site now is home aviaries specially designed for native species, including the ‘alala (Hawaiian crow) which are completely extinct in the wild. Through captive propagation and release techniques, KBCC staff and volunteers have raised a total of 9 ‘alala hatchlings in the breeding season during the spring and summer of 2014, bringing the entire worldwide ‘alala population to only 114. PHOTO: Hand-rearing ‘alala at KBCC Back in the 90’s, the population of ‘alala was at an all-time low of only 20 birds in total, including those in captivity. At the time, a release of captive ‘alala into the wild was unsuccessful, in part due to habitat loss – underscoring the interconnectedness of flora and fauna in a natural environment. The ‘alala need a forest canopy thick enough to hide from io (hawk) and their absence in the wild in turn affects native fruit tree populations – the ‘alala love to eat a huge range of native fruits, spreading the seeds around their range of flight.
KBCC Discovery Forest & the Hawaii Forest Institute
One of the initial projects of the MAHALO ‘ĀINA: Give Back to the Forest Program is the establishment of 1.8 acres as the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center’s Discovery Forest. This project will help to restore a lush forest canopy with endemic species like Koa. The understory will be planted with endemic fruit trees such as Hō‘awa, Kōlea, Maile, Māmaki, Māmane, ‘Ōhelo, ‘Ōlapa, Pilo, and ‘Ie’ie. Besides providing food and a natural habitat for the ‘alala and other native birds, the Discovery Forest will allow for invaluable hands-on experience for students from Kamehameha Schools and public schools on Hawaii Island to learn about conservation and how to malama the ‘aina. To learn more about the KBCC Discovery Forest, click here. ** KBCC is not open to the public. This visit and use of these photos was approved by KBCC, and may not be duplicated or used without specific written permission.