The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has had a long and volatile history. Islands that were relied upon heavily in WWII as launching sites for the two atomic bombs, are now battling for survival against a different enemy. This adversary threatens the survival of many bird species that exist exclusively on these islands.
Since 1952, CNMI has been invaded by the Brown Tree Snake, Boiga irregularis, which has had devastating effects on bird populations on the island of Guam. Ten of the island’s twelve forest bird species are extinct, and the two surviving species are found only in tiny localized populations. Sightings of the snake have been increasing on the islands of Rota, Saipan, and Tinian. In 2004, the CNMI wildlife department asked North American zoos for assistance in developing captive populations of native bird species to be used as source populations if the brown tree snake should further decimate the native avifauna.
51 faintails are brought to Sarigan as a part of the MAC programs relocation efforts.
Ellen Gorrell of the Toledo Zoo handles a netted Tinian Monarch
Ellen Gorrell releases the processed bird into the shipping crate
The Mariana Avifauna Conservation Program
For several years, species have been collected and transferred to U.S. zoos, while other birds have been translocated to smaller snake-free isles.
The Toledo Zoo has contributed to the MAC Program in house as well as in the field. Since 2009, keepers from the bird department have been afforded the opportunity to work alongside other staff from U.S. zoos to capture, translocate, and transfer at risk avian species. Several of these Mariana species are currently being worked with at the Toledo Zoo. In the Aviary, you can see a pair of both the White-Throated Ground Doves and the Golden White-Eyes, while our off exhibit Avian Breeding Center cares for a pair of Mariana Fruit Doves and nine Bridled White-Eyes. Our White-throated Ground Doves have reared three chicks, and both the Bridled and Golden White-Eyes have produced offspring. Unfortunately we have not yet fledged a white-eye, but so little is known about these species that every bit of information learned will help future endeavors here as well as elsewhere in the zoo community. Our Mariana Fruit Dove pair has produced many eggs and they have had one successful fledge of their chick, after settling into their nest.
The invasion of the Mariana Islands by the brown tree snake is a classic example of how devastating a non-native species can be to an environment ill-equipped to defend against it. Through ongoing research by the MAC Program and the collaborative efforts of hard-working individuals, there is hope for the birds of the Marianas Islands. It is because of generous contributions to the Conservation Today program that the Toledo Zoo can continue aiding the program and saving these species.