by Alvin Powell



Scientific American: The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po'ouli is named a "New and Notable" title in the June 2008 issue.

Saturday, March 29, 2 p.m.:Al will give a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. 26 Oxford St. Cambridge, Mass.


The death of the world rarest bird

On the day after Thanksgiving 2004, a small black-masked bird died at a captive breeding center on Maui. Called a po'ouli, its death marked the end of its reign as the world's rarest bird and likely meant its species' extinction.

The event also ended a decades-long human drama that brought biologists, government officials, college students and conservationists together in the effort to save the po'ouli.

On that November night, the Hawaiian forest bird was found lifeless, propped upright in a small plastic container that functioned as an avian intensive care unit. When the breeding center's director found the bird, he knew he had likely witnessed the end of a species. Still, he later said that he also felt relief that the ordeal for this small, sick bird was over.

The po'ouli's story is detailed in "The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po'ouli."

The book, published in March 2008 by Stackpole Books, chronicles the short known history of the po'ouli, a snail-eating Hawaiian honeycreeper discovered in 1973.

Before its likely extinction in 2004, the bird's numbers had dwindled to just three individuals. In a biological tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, the three lived near each other, but in separate home ranges from which they would not budge. For nearly a decade, each may have passed its days thinking it was the last of its kind.

The po'ouli's story is one of passion and of sorrow, but one from which we must learn as more and more of the world's species slip toward extinction.