Extinction Looms For Rare Polynesian Birds

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MEDIA RELEASE April 24, 1999

A dozen species of birds in Polynesia could be about to disappear forever, forced into extinction by introduced predators, over hunting, deforestation or over grazing.

In an effort to save some of the region's rare birds, the South Pacific

Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Birdlife International have organized a workshop for national and international bird conservation experts, to be held in Rarotonga next week.

SPREP Avifauna Officer Dr. Greg Sherley says at least three bird species from Polynesian countries have dwindled to such low numbers that extinction is virtually inevitable. "The Samoan moorhen may already have vanished, while in French Polynesia, the Polynesian ground dove and the Marquesan imperial pigeon will be lucky to survive. At least another nine bird species are endangered, and will probably also join the slide into extinction."

Dr. Sherley said there were probably more birds in the region facing likely extinction, because estimates of their numbers were based on studies that are now ten or twenty years old, and during that period threats to bird life had continued to worsen.

"Realistically, about a dozen birds in Polynesian countries now face extinction, and there may be another 20 species that are also dangerously close to going out the back door."

He said the accelerating rate of extinction of bird species signaled broader threats to the Pacific environment. "Birds are pretty much at the top of the rung in the food chain. If they're in trouble, that's an indication of huge disruption on the lower levels. For example, particular bird species play a vital role in dispersing the seeds of trees, particularly the big timber trees which Pacific island communities use for medicine, timber, carving and building. Without the birds, the trees cannot propagate, so you start seeing your trees disappear as well."

Dr. Sherley said there were some heartening examples of conservation work that had given critically endangered birds a new chance of survival. "In the Cook Islands, the Kakerori, the Rarotongan flycatcher, was facing almost certain extinction. In 1989 there were only 29 birds left. But dedicated efforts by conservation workers since that date have seen numbers increase to 165 in 1998."

The week-long workshop will set priorities for conserving particular species, researching those birds that will soon vanish forever, surveying populations of birds known to be endangered, and planning public education and awareness programs.

Similar workshops will be held later in Micronesia and Melanesia.

For further information, contact: Jan Sinclair at SPREP, E-Mail: Jan@sprep.org.ws or Dr. Greg Sherley at Paradise Inn, Tel: (682) 20 544; Fax: (682) 22 544; E-Mail: Paradise@gatepoly.co.ck

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