Cook Islands Seeks to Eradicate Invasive Myna Birds

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Species initially introduce to control insects, killed endemic birds

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 6, 2014) – The Cook Islands is aiming to be the first place in the world to become free of the myna bird after it was introduced to the country to help control insect pests.

Early last century, the myna was introduced to Atiu Island in the Cook Islands as a way of controlling insects and other pests in crops and gardens.

But within a few short years, its aggressive behaviour destroyed local bird populations.

In 2000, the myna was declared to be amongst the world's 100 worst invasive species.

The people of Atiu have gone a step further, declaring a war on the myna, calling themselves the 'myanators'.

Alan Lieberman, a research fellow at the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research has told Pacific Beat the myanators have been persistent in the efforts to limit the myna population.

"These people have been dogged, they have been passionate and they have never said this is going to be too hard," he said.

The Kura Lorikeet, which was native to Atiu, disappeared following generations of hunting by traditional owners and an uneven competition for survival from the introduced myna birds.

Mr Lieberman has been working with San Diego Zoo in the United State to lay the groundwork for reintroducing the lorikeets

As part of the program, 27 of the birds were reintroduced, but it became clear that if they wanted the lorikeets to survive, the myna would have to go, or the least, be controlled.

That's when the myanators stepped in.

Using funding from groups like Conservation International, they began hiring hunters and trappers, as well as monitoring areas where the bird was known to be in big population numbers.

By the end of 2102, over 20,000 mynas had been killed, and in their latest update, it was estimated there may be just 62 adult birds left on the island.

Gerald McCormack from the Cook Islands Natural Trust says hunting the myna bird is not easy and the hunters face a number of challenges.

"Atiu is a relatively big island. When you're a person, you're walking around an island that's covered with trees, you can't see far," he said.

"The other thing about Atiu is that it's got all these feeding areas for the birds. People have got pigs everywhere. You know in little pig pigsties and the birds are feeding at these places."

Mr Lieberman says he does not know of any other island or area around the world which has been able to control the invasive myna bird as effectively as the Cook Islands.

But he says one thing in Atiu's favour is that it has been spared the invasion of other species like rats and mongooses.

Mr Lieberman believes the success of this program is due the commitment shown by the people of Atiu.

"They have total endorsement of the local population of humans. It's not just two or three shooters and two or three poison baiters and a couple of a trappers," he said.

"They see a myna or a roost of mynas, they'll let the shooters know and that's the only way they're going to eliminate the last few mynas and you know with that kind of support, I think they really can get to the very last bird."

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