Endangered Hawai'i Film Featuring Richard Chamberlain Receives International Acclaim at Top European Enviro Film Festival

Photo courtesy Richard Chamerlain
Photo courtesy Richard Chamberlain

(Washington, D.C., December 20, 2012) Endangered Hawaiʻi, a video about the shocking and tragic extinction of dozens of bird species in Hawaiʻi, has been awarded the International Jury Prize at EKOFILM – International Film Festival on the Environment and Natural and Cultural Heritage. The 30-minute video is narrated by the actor Richard Chamberlain and produced by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the leading bird conservation organizations in the U.S.

The EKOFILM Festival has long been one of the leading environmentally-oriented festivals in the world – twice being named as the top festival of its kind. The EKOFILM Festival was first held almost 40 years ago, in 1974 and is hosted in Ostrava (about 230 miles west of Prague), Czech Republic.

“We are thrilled to receive this award,” said Dr. George Wallace, the senior film writer and director and Vice President for Oceans and Islands at ABC, one of the leading U.S. bird conservation organizations. “Hopefully it will bring more attention to the stunning bird extinction crisis that continues to unfold in Hawaiʻi.” More than 70 species of birds have gone extinct since Europeans first arrived on the islands. Many more are in a state of serious decline.

Wallace thanked the actor Richard Chamberlain for donating his time and narration skills to the new extinction film. “He helped give this video the sense of urgency that it deserves,” said. Wallace. “I am sure that Richard is one of the main reasons why this video has been so well-received,” said Wallace. He added that ABC has ordered a second production run to meet the unexpectedly high demand for Endangered Hawaiʻi.

Chamberlain said the video was “something that I had to be a part of,“ adding that he'd long thought of Hawaiʻi as one of the world's most treasured jewels.

“I lived there for many years,” he added‚ “so I could relate to what was happening to its environment. The video was a wonderful opportunity to give back. I'm truly thrilled to have been able to contribute.”

Endangered Hawaii explores the on-going bird extinction crisis in Hawaiʻi that has led to about 70 percent of all endemic bird species in the state becoming extinct. ABC produced the film with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

With beautiful footage of many of Hawaiʻi's stunning birds and their habitats, the film showcases the unique biodiversity of our 50th state and explains the environmental crisis that has caused Hawaiʻi to become known as the “Bird Extinction Capital of the World.” It describes the nature of the crisis, its causes, and current efforts to implement solutions for species remaining on the brink.

"There's no place else on Earth that has witnessed the levels of bird extinctions that we have seen in our 50th state,” said Wallace. “Many people find this shocking, given that Hawaiʻi is a place that conjures up images of lush vegetation, sun, beaches and a refreshing tropical climate. Our aim with this film is to make not only Hawaiʻi's past and present problems known to a wider audience, but to also demonstrate that with the full commitment of the state and federal governments and non-governmental organizations, we have the ability to turn the situation around and prevent further bird extinctions.”

Since the arrival of Europeans to the Hawaiian Islands, 71 endemic bird species have become extinct out of a total of 113 that existed just prior to human colonization. Of the remaining 42, 32 are federally listed, and ten of those have not even been seen for up to 40 years.

I'iwi by Jack Jeffrey
I'iwi by Jack Jeffrey

A key species of concern is the Kiwikiu, or Maui Parrotbill, a honeycreeper that was once widespread on Maui and Molokaʻi, but which is now limited to approximately 500 individuals high on the windward slopes of the Haleakalā volcano. Another honeycreeper, the Palila, was once found throughout many of the Hawaiian Islands, but now clings to less than five percent of its original range on Hawaiʻi Island. Meanwhile, the Millerbird, endemic to the small, rocky island of Nihoa, is down to as few as 700 individuals, and the ʻAkikiki and ʻAkekeʻe of Kauaʻi are in steep decline.

The film points out that the primary threats to Hawaiian birds are exotic species: predators such as feral cats and rats; herbivores such as goats and pigs that degrade native habitat; diseases such as avian malaria and pox transmitted by non-native mosquitoes; and plants that displace native species and reduce habitat quality for native birds. Climate change may further reduce or eliminate mosquito-free – and hence disease-free – upland habitat as temperatures rise.

An encouraging note highlighted in the film is that in areas where there has been aggressive conservation action, Hawaiian birds have stable or increasing populations. New projects underway by state, federal, and NGO partners such as the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Hawaiʻi's Department of Lands and Natural Resources, and ABC are also making a difference. For example, the state, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Hawaii Chapter of the Wildlife Society partnered to construct a predator-proof fence – the first of its kind in the United States –to keep non-native feral cats and dogs, small Indian mongooses, and rats out of seabird nesting habitat at Kaʻena Point on Oʻahu; a 52 mile fence to exclude mouflon sheep and goats from Palila critical habitat on Mauna Kea is under construction by the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife; and a new initiative of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and American Bird Conservancy to create a second population of the endangered Millerbird on Laysan Island as insurance against the species' extinction is showing encouraging early signs of success.

The film contends that significant federal funding is key to reversing the current negative trends in Hawaiian bird populations. Currently, the resources directed to Hawaiʻi's environmental problems are extremely low in proportion to their need. While Hawaiian birds comprise one third of all U.S. bird species listed under the Endangered Species Act, only 4.1% of funding for recovery of listed bird species is directed their way.

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