Saving Samoa's rarest bird 'the little dodo'

21:03, Apr 13 2014
Rebecca Stirnemann
SAVING AN ICON: PhD student Rebecca Stirnemann helped set up the Samoa Conservation Society to save some of the country’s rarest bird species, including the manumea.

In an age when the piercing light of scientific endeavour shines brightly on the world's mysteries and magic, Samoa's national bird remains an enigma.

Reflecting the desperate plight of the manumea, today more of its flock lie stuffed in museum collections around the world than foraging in the forests of its homeland.

Recent surveys put the manumea population at 200, but former Waikato woman Rebecca Stirnemann says the actual number could be much less.

rare bird, mao
TROPICAL BEAUTY: The mao or ma’oma’o is threatened by habitat destruction and the spread of introduced species such as rats.

Stirnemann is among a small band of scientists and volunteers striving to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

But time is running out.

In the past month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the manumea as critically endangered.


	 rare bird,  manumea
Rare sight: A young manumea sits in a tree. The species was recently classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Stirnemann's interest in the plight of the manumea was piqued during her PhD study on another of Samoa's rare birds, the mao.

"I started working on the manumea when I realised how close to the brink of extinction it is," she said.

"It's so close to disappearing some people are questioning whether it can be saved. We know it's in decline but we don't know why. So much basic information about the manumea is still unknown and without that knowledge it's very difficult to take conservation of the species to the next level."

Last year Stirnemann helped set up the Samoa Conservation Society and is currently helping the society raise funds to study why the manumea is in decline.

About US$2200 has been raised so far.

Adding to the sense of urgency is the knowledge that more than just the fate of a single species is at stake.

"The manumea is the last living species of the genus didunculus. So if we lose the manumea, we lose a whole genus. As a comparison, if we lost the genus canis, we'd lose all dogs and all wolves and everything else in that genus."

Like many Pacific nations, Samoa's government can't afford to channel large funds into conservation initiatives. But it's here where the work of non-government agencies, such as the Samoa Conservation Society, can make a difference.

With her PhD studies almost complete, Stirnemann will return to Samoa in the next few months to continue her conservation work with the society.

Although the island nation is far removed from her childhood days in Te Awamutu, Stirnemann says New Zealanders can and are making a significant contribution to conservation initiatives around the world.

"New Zealand is a world leader in island conservation.and our knowledge can make a massive difference to conservation efforts in other countries. Species like the manumea and mao live in our backyard so to speak and it's an area where we can make a difference." 

Waikato Times