Although making up just 0.25% of the United States’ area Hawai’i is home to 25% of the endangered species in US, earning it the title of Endangered Species Capital of the World. Hawaii’s native birds and habitats are under siege from invasive species and disease. Immediate action is needed to prevent birds from going extinct within our lifetimes.
“More than one-third of all U.S. listed bird species occur in Hawaii and 71 bird species have gone extinct since humans colonized the islands in about 300 AD.”– State of the Birds Report, 2009
Scientists see the islands as a harbinger of things to come on continents, where extinction occurs at a slower rate. Most island birds evolved on remote archipelagoes, so they are extremely vulnerable to invasive plants, wildlife introduced by humans, the onslaught of new predators, habitat degradation, and disease. In the last five centuries, 87% percent of bird extinctions worldwide have taken place on islands. The addition of climate change threatens to spread mosquito-borne diseases and dry out forests thus increasing the risk of fires.
Palila is a critically endangered Hawaiian Honeycreeper with a vibrant yellow head, a strong finch bill, and a melodious call. Found only on the upper slopes of the largest mountain in the world, Maunakea, Palila declined from 6,600 birds in 2003 to 2,200 in 2008. As of a 2019 census, only 1,000 birds are left. Conservationists have worked tirelessly to restore Palila’s mamane-naio forest, eliminate predators and invasive species, fence critical habitat, reduce fire threats to the forest, and raise captive-bred birds to boost populations. In 2019, the San Diego Zoo and Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project coordinated the release of Palila to the wild.
In 1979, Palila became the first animal named plaintiff in a human court of law. A private citizen and attorney from Earthjustice sued the State of Hawaii for negligence in maintaining wild sheep and goats in Palila critical habitat. A stuffed specimen represented as Lead Plaintiff in federal court, “Palila v. Hawaiʻi” became a landmark environmental case. Using the newly created Endangered Species Act, the Palila and its allies won, establishing the legal definition of “harm” to a species; destruction to a species’ habitat is equal to killing the animal itself. Nearly 40 years later, the case remains open and threats to Palila’s survival still remain.
We are racing against the clock to tell this powerful story of how efforts to save one bird can save, not only it’s own, but prevent the extinction of a multitude of Hawaiian species living on Maunakea and beyond. Our film’s mission is for audiences to care deeply about our stewardship of Nature and all that we have been gifted, as we are all connected as one family. Through our Native Hawaiian characters, the film presents an alternative approach to blending science and spirituality to conservation.
Our film is meant for young people and families to witness the beauty of the sacredness of the Palila bird and Maunakea as a home for many species, including humankind. Our hope is that people will find what is unique and rare in their backyards and work to keep them alive… so we can all hear the amazing sounds of Mother Nature and enjoy the peace and calm she brings to our increasingly stressful lives.