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Guam Kingfishers to be introduced to Palmyra Atoll


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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to introduce a nonessential experimental population of Guam Kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus), also known as Sihek, on Palmyra Atoll to promote the conservation and recovery of the species. Sihek are currently extinct in the wild and the captive population is at high risk of extinction, partly due to a recent moderate decline in reproductive output that is likely to have long-term negative consequences on the survival probability for this species.

Endemic to Guam, Sihek were common in the early 1900s but declined between 1950 and 2000, mostly due to predation by the brown treesnake. It was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 1984. The last remaining wild Sihek were taken into captivity between 1984 and 1986. Sihek were considered extinct in the wild by 1988.

The primary cause of the Sihek’s extinction in the wild was predation by the introduced brown treesnake, which likely arrived on Guam prior to 1950 as stowaways on shipping materials. Brown treesnakes are still present on Guam; that presence precludes consideration of Guam as a viable reintroduction site for Sihek for the foreseeable future.

The reintroduction would occur on Palmyra Atoll. The majority of the islands, waters, and the coral reefs surrounding Palmyra Atoll are owned by the United States and managed by the USFWS as Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  According to the USFWS, “the introduction of sihek to Palmyra Atoll is not intended to be a permanent introduction that would support a self- sustaining population; rather, it is intended to facilitate the gathering of information and analysis to optimize efforts for reestablishment of the species on Guam once brown treesnakes can be sufficiently controlled at a landscape scale.”

Section 10(j) of the ESA allows for the designation of reintroduced populations of listed species as experimental populations, giving the USFWS greater regulatory flexibility and discretion in managing the reintroduced species to encourage recovery in collaboration with partners, especially private landowners. The agency plans to introduce up to nine hatch-year Siheks in the first year, and fewer in subsequent years, to ultimately achieve a target of 10 breeding pairs.

Comments on the proposal are due 30 September.

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