Extinction of bird species and Samoas responsibility

29/11/2010 02:33


“In ten years, some species will be extinct,” Dr Ulf Beichle




Short Tail Parrot Finch. Photo: G. Haufmann

By Cherelle Jackson

‘Extinction’ is a severe word; it’s one of those words that are over used in sci-fi films, when a cheap plot is being developed a fake scientist usually throws in the word for momentums sake, but ‘extinction’ in reality is no joke.

Take for instance the Samoan Woodhen or Gallinula pacifica, it’s a bird species endemic to Samoa and now extinct.

According to researchers and scientists who have been studying the bird for years, the Samoan Woodhen became extinct back in 1871, some are still arguing about the real date of extinction, but the consensus was around that period.

Researchers from Hamburg, Germany who sighted the last Samoan Woodhen say the bird has always been rare.

“Like other island rails, it fell victim to rats introduced by ships. Native hunting may also have been a factor in its extermination,” Johann Kubary wrote shortly after the sighting of the bird.

Of Samoa’s 37 native land birds, 84 percent are endemic species or subspecies, and there are also 4 introduced species.

Large islands in Samoa support up to 6 species of fruit-eating pigeons including the Samoan tooth-billed pigeon or Manumea as we know it.

Dr. Ulf Beichle a Danish Bird Specialist predicted back in 2002 that more bird species will become extinct in Samoa.

“There has been a decline in birds in Samoa and it will keep going down unless something is done now,” he said.

Beichle whose main research was on the manumea says the decline in numbers is obvious.

There are many factors that contribute to the decline in the number of birds, and Dr Beichle believes they could be controlled.

“Hunters are still shooting birds and what’s worse, it's in the reserves,” he said.

Dr Beichle was not surprised when he found gun shells and bird feathers in a forest, hard evidence that people are still shooting birds despite the law against it.

“There is a law in Samoa to prevent people from shooting, but there is no enforcement and people are still shooting birds,” he said.

He was surprised however at the lack of concern in Samoa.

Wondering when the last time someone was charged for bird ‘poaching.’

But Dr Beichle said another reason for the decline in bird species is deforestation.

“Forests are being cut down and replaced by plantations and cattle which carry no wildlife.”

The establishment of a township within the 3000 acres of land at Salelologa, one of the best lowland forests in Samoa does not help.

There are three native bird species which reside in that area and are now threatened as a result of the development.

Hunters now have easier access to the area with the newly built roads in the forest. “People will go hunting and ignore the law in those parts,” he said.

Dr Beichle also knows that there are twenty species of native Samoan birds and one non-native species in the Salelologa forests. They represent 65% of all native-land and water birds in Samoa.

Said he: “It's a real shame that all those species will face extinction with the logging and building of the new town.”

But perhaps what pains Dr Beichle the most is that “there has never been strong action" against bird hunting.

Other environmentalists say that there is still a need for more extensive reserves in Samoa to protect large areas of forest encompassing complete watersheds.

In particular, Mount Silisili on Savai’i Island has been recommended as a suitable reserve site because of low human population density and high mountains which support a diversity of forests.

I think it’s time Samoa takes its responsibility seriously, we are accountable for a handful of native species, and taking a casual attitude towards the protection of such species leaves a lot about our conscience as a nation to question.