by Tom Lodge, Hawaii Hunting Association
On April 8, 2013, EarthJustice secured a court order to resume aerial eradication on Mauna Kea. Earth Justice argued that this action was necessary because DLNR did not do any flying in the effort to exterminate sheep in 2012.
On July 31, 2008, in a press release, EarthJustice stated, that 2237 Palila remain in Palila Habitat. Other officials have estimated the population at 2,640 (Leonard et al. 2008).
On September 21, 2010, Big Island Video News reported that the US Geological Survey pegged the Palila population at 1200 individuals.
During the period 2008 through 2011, with generally increasing annual animal harvest numbers (1,551 in 2008 to 2,144 in 2011), Palila population continued dramatic declines in spite of the substantial sheep removals.
In a 04/09/2013 EarthJustice Press Release, EarthJustice estimated that there are 2200 Palila now left on Mauna Kea, an increase of 1000 birds over the 2010 USGS survey. Was this made possible by virtue of no disruptive flights in Palila Critical Habitat during 2012?
The Polynesian and Black rat are known to take a heavy toll on the Palila. These rats eat eggs and also predate the adults, directly reducing Palila population numbers. The primary predator is the feral cat that destroys both adult and young birds raising the question is the sheep really the main cause for the Palila decline?
Additional Palila predators include the Hawaiian owl, the Hawaiian hawk plus wasps and ants which prey on native caterpillars, a Palila protein food source.
Removing the sheep, which has questionable effect of aiding the Palila, has had serious adverse consequences. According to Scientist Paul Banko in 2006, alien grass cover, not now being grazed, is suppressing mamane regeneration and greatly increasing the threat of fire.
As reported by Birdlife.org, “In addition to the aforementioned threats, this species' very restricted range means it could be extirpated by extreme events such as drought and storms (Banko 2006), and drought is thought to be contributing to the specie’s recent decline (C. Farmer in litt. 2007). Demographic patterns of mamane mortality are under investigation, as mamane may be under threat from pathogens (USFWS 2003). Climate change may pose a long-term future threat to the species, as drought frequency and intensity are expected to increase at higher elevations (Benning et al. 2002, Giambelluca and Luke 2007).”
It’s obvious that along with drought, the cats, rats, ants, wasps and perhaps fungus, are all contributors to the Palila’s disappearance, yet they incriminate only the sheep! That singular emphasis on removing the sheep is adding to the threats being faced by the Palila! As Albert Einstein aptly communicated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.