Why is Hawaii releasing mosquitos from helicopters? They want to save birds

The honeycreepers, known for their vibrant colours and diverse beak shapes, have been decimated by avian malaria carried by mosquitoes introduced in the 1800s.
Why is Hawaii releasing mosquitos from helicopters? They want to save birds
Thousands of mosquitoes, encased in cardboard tubes, are loaded into a helicopter by Aidan Callahan, Layla Rohde and Nicole Ferguson of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, part of a novel strategy to save Hawaii’s endangered birds. Photo: Ryan Kellman/Ryan Kellman

Brightly coloured honeycreeper birds, a group of over 50 species and subspecies endemic to Hawaii, are dying, and authorities are going for a last-ditch attempt to save them from extinction.

They are releasing millions of mosquitoes from helicopters.

According to reports, the archipelago has already seen the extinction of Thirty-three species of honeycreeper and several others are endangered.

The honeycreepers, known for their vibrant colours and diverse beak shapes, have been decimated by avian malaria carried by mosquitoes introduced in the 1800s. With no natural immunity to the disease, these endemic birds can succumb to a single infected mosquito bite.

"The only thing that's more tragic is if [the birds] went extinct and we didn't try. You can't not try," Chris Warren, forest bird program coordinator for Haleakalā National Park on Maui, told The Guardian.

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Why is Hawaii releasing mosquitos from helicopters? They want to save birds

The innovative strategy involves weekly helicopter drops of 2,50,000 male mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacteria that acts as a birth control. To date, 10 million mosquitoes have been released.

This technique, known as the incompatible insect technique (IIT), aims to reduce the overall mosquito population by preventing the eggs of wild females from hatching when they mate with these modified males.

The situation is dire for species like the KauaÊûi creeper, whose population has plummeted from 450 in 2018 to just one known bird in the wild today. As climate change pushes mosquitoes to higher elevations, the birds' last refuges are under threat.

This project, led by a coalition including the US National Park Service, the state of Hawaii, and the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project under the banner "Birds, Not Mosquitoes," represents a race against time. The effectiveness of the program is expected to become apparent during the summer when mosquito populations typically peak.

Dr. Nigel Beebe from the University of Queensland, who has researched similar techniques, noted the advantages of this approach over pesticides, especially for conservation efforts. However, he cautions that long-term mosquito elimination remains challenging, particularly for mainland areas.

Source: India Today

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