Just a few years ago, the Hawaiian Islands were declared by the American Bird Conservancy to be the most threatened bird habitat in the entire United States. Though the state comprises less than 0.2% of American soil, nearly one quarter of the nation’s endangered species of animals, birds and marine mammals are in Hawaii, making it the “endangered species capital of the world.”
According to the Hawaii Wildlife Center, extinction is a serious threat to numerous animal groups living on the islands. Over ten species of birds have gone extinct in the last 30 years alone in Hawaii. There remains just over 70 species of birds in Hawaii, 30 of which are listed as endangered.
If not properly protected and cared for, these birds could easily vanish from the face of the earth. Several of the species who are in the gravest danger of extinction can only be found in Hawaii. This includes the Oahu tree snail, the Hawaiian nene goose, and the Hawaiian hoary bat. The goal with endangered species is to protect their natural habits and the resources they need to survive; so that they can ranked as “threatened” rather than “endangered” and hopefully their populations can grow more stable over time.
Animals go extinct when their habitat and food sources are depleted or compromised over a significant period of time. With the increase of tourism and human population, natural habits such as caves, forests, ocean reefs and animal nesting areas are either polluted or over-populated by competing species. Though there would be too many to list, here is a sampling of the species in Hawaii who run the greatest risk of extinction.
Green sea turtle: The beautiful green sea turtle, or honu, is endangered largely because of human activity and interaction. They are killed through pollution, accidentally getting trapped in fishing gear and nets, loss of habitat and nesting areas or killed by diseases or by stress associated with human interactions. Though it is obviously illegal to capture or kill these creatures, even disturbing, approaching or touching them is dangerous to the animal and violators can be subject to serious fines and even imprisonment.
Hawaiian hoary bat: Once considered a subspecies of the hoary bat found on the mainland United States, the Hawaiian hoary bat is a creature unique to the Hawaiian Islands alone and is listed among the endangered species. The species is believed to be descended from a pair of bats that migrated thousands of miles from the Americas. They typically are around 10 to 13 inches in size, and though they once inhabited all the Hawaiian Islands, they no longer exist on Oahu at all, due to habitat loss and pesticides.
Hawaiian hawk: This raptor is endemic to the state of Hawaii. Though they can now only be found on the Big Island, ancient fossils of these creatures have been discovered on Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai. The Hawaiian hawk or io can reach up to 18 inches tall and is considered an amakua or family god. The Hawaiian hawk’s existence is threatened by limited forested areas, illegal hunting, starvation and predation.
Hawaiian monk seal: The Hawaiian monk seal is the only native seal in Hawaii and one of two monk seal species that remain in existence worldwide. There are less than 1,000 Hawaiian monk seals left on the islands. The state mammal of Hawaii is affectionately known as the ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua meaning “dog that runs in rough water.” A few of the main threats to these creatures are low infant survival rate, lack of sufficient food, predatory attacks from sharks and stress from human encroachment.
Crested honeycreeper: These large birds make their home on the island of Maui, most of whom populate the summit of Haleakala. Also called the akohekohe, these birds are now protected but the Endangered Species Act, since the numbers have dropped drastically in the last few decades, leaving only an estimated 3,800 of these birds.
Nene goose: Of all the native Hawaiian animals, the nene goose has experienced one of the closest brushes with extinction in the past. They were almost killed off completely in the 1940s because of lax seasonal hunting laws. Fortunately, when the geese became named as the Hawaiian State Bird in 1957, greater protective measures were made and now there are small populations on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai. However, because of predation issues, there are still only about an estimated total of 800 nene geese in Hawaii.
Oahu tree snail: The Oahu Tree snail is a part of the Achatinidae family and are bright tropical snails that usually live on one tree all their lives. Although there are 41 tree snail species endemic to Oahu, there are only an estimated 100 of each species left in existence. They are threatened by predation from rats, chameleons, as well as a loss of habitat and increased human encroachment.