In Mrs. Wines’ fifth grade classroom recently, 21 students were hard at work drawing pictures of ʻAlalā, the Hawaiian crow that’s been extinct in the wild for nearly two decades. Their drawings are part of their assignment to come up with Hawaiian names for the next set of 12 birds scheduled to be released later this year.
The students attend Connections Public Charter School. Rachel Kingsley, Education and Outreach Associate for the ʻAlalā Project, said “This class was chosen to participate in this activity because of their connection to the ʻAlalā.” The class has been studying the behavior and biology of ʻAlalā for two consecutive school years. Kingsley added, “Itʻs exciting that they have such a connection to the birds and really want to be involved.” A year and a half ago, they helped renowned artist Patrick Ching paint an ʻAlalā mural on the back of their school building in downtown Hilo. In April the students will visit the San Diego Zoo Global’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on Hawai’i island, where more than 125 ‘Alala are housed for conservation breeding under the Hawai’i Endangered Bird Conservation program. Conservation efforts for the ʻAlalā have been underway since 2002 when the last pair was observed in the wild and became extinct.
Two releases last year into the State of Hawai‘i’s Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve has resulted in 11 birds thriving, foraging for native foods, expanding their range and taking evasive action toward their only natural predator, the endangered ‘Io or native Hawaiian hawk. These themes are captured in the student’s work and in the names that were selected for a community online voting process, occurring from April 9-14 (details on how to vote below).
Gabby Penn chose the name Ho‘omalu ulu, which she explains means, “The ʻAlalā are protectors of the forest with their loud voices and proud shadow above the forest.” Justin Pamon said his name for an ʻAlalā is Ulu. As he believes, the birds teach people and inspire them to take care of nature and wildlife. Kalaʻau lāʻau is the name Ezra Holton came up with. He said, “I picked this name because the birds get bugs and worms out of the trees.” ʻAlalā have been seen using sticks to extract these food items from trees. ʻAlalā are highly intelligent and that’s the reason Chasya Ledward came up with the name Naʻauao. She explained, “ʻAlalā are so smart because they know how to turn items nature gives them to gather food and make nests.” She added, “I think a modern-day person would not be able to do that.”
On the day the students revealed their name choices, Jackie Gaudioso-Levita and Kingsley of The ʻAlalā Project met with them to talk more about these remarkable birds, the status of the 11 now out in the forest, the future of the release program, and what they can do in the future to better ensure species protection and reintroduction success. As the ʻAlalā return to their native habitat, it is critical that land managers, scientists, and the community work together to ensure that the birds have the space, environment, and support they need to thrive. Teacher Kate Wines said, “These students are very engaged with the ʻAlalā, which is a wonderful learning experience now and for the future as they will help lead the way, if not as conservationists, but as citizens who have the fate and well-being of all creatures at heart.”