The Wake-Up Call

Kim Hoang Do

I woke up one morning to an eruption of shouting in the distance. Some folks were exchanging morning greetings down the street. I peered out of my window only to encounter pitch-black skies, so dark that I had mistaken them for drapes. I inched my fingers towards my phone and glanced at the time: 5:13AM. Who in the world could possibly be up at this unreasonable hour?

Nobody had warned me that my new neighbors would be early risers—loud, early risers at that. Succumbing to the darkness, I crawled back under my covers and drifted into sleep. Slowly, slowly, drifting when—there it was again. The most painstakingly obnoxious noise that one could possibly fathom.

OK, that’s it, I’m up. Say hello to my new alarm clock. I sat up and began to prepare for the first day of work in Hawaii. I would be staying in Hawaii for a week as an extension of my summer fellowship at San Diego Zoo Global's Institute for Conservation Research. I was looking forward to meeting everyone and shadowing their responsibilities.

On my first day, I met Lanakila. Lanakila is a disgruntled, old man. He reminded me of those elderly characters in movies who would chase after children found loitering on their property. Despite his old age and arthritis, Lanakila sure could move. I’m pretty sure he could outrun me. Lanakila also has a neat party trick up his sleeve: impersonations. He’s successfully fooled a few other employees with his deceptions.

I also got the chance to meet ‘Ilima and Holomakani—the ultimate power couple. They not only compliment each other, but also work well as a team. Holomakani with his go-getter attitude is prepared to take calculated risks, and ‘Ilima, soft-spoken but forceful, enjoys taking matters into her own hands. They had just come back from maternity and paternity leave and were ready to work. Their forte was in construction. They’ve mastered time-management and can efficiently take turns running errands and gathering supplies in a joint effort their nest.

You see, Lanakila, ‘Ilima, and Holomakani are birds. They are three of the few remaining endangered Hawaiian crows at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center who have helped shape history.

Declared extinct in the wild in 2002, Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) has successfully reintroduced 21 of the ‘alalā into the wild through captive propagation efforts.

Through my summer fellowship with the Community Engagement team, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have Lanakila, ‘Ilima, and Holomakani and many other ‘alala as my neighbors for a week at KBCC’s facilities.

During my fellowship at the Institute for Conservation Research, I helped conduct research into student cognitions within environmental education programming. KBCC intends to implement an education program tailored to ‘alalā species recovery and teach about the importance of native species in local ecosystems.

For months, I read about the ‘alalā, learning about their valuable ecological role, their special high-pitched squawks, and their problem-solving capabilities. How starstruck I was to witness this with my own eyes!

The ‘alalā are intellectually-sophisticated, curious creatures with unique personalities. They are loud, no doubt, but powerful: in ancient Hawai’ian history, the ‘alalā was also the name of the chanter who would broadcast the chief’s messages during battle. Powerful.

The ‘alalā are resilient as a species and serve as a reminder of our responsibility to protect wildlife. I was awakened by a series of uncoordinated squawks and cries. But I suppose that’s what it would sound like: a wake-up call to end extinction.

Kim Hoang Do, Institute Summer College Fellow.