“I felt like I was walking on the set of Avatar, with the glow-in-dark mushrooms and gigantic trees in the forest. It was very awe-inspiring.”
In March of 2023, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo Head Veterinarian, Dr. Kami Fox, teamed up with Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) and set out for the small island of Rota to take her talents on a conservation mission: to advance the science of relocating endangered bird species and to coordinate the expertise of wildlife professionals from around the world to assist with conservation actions that are necessary to ensure the conservation of native species.
“March 5, 2023: There has been so much wind and rain, it has made research difficult. With the cooler temperatures, the birds are staying high in the canopy and soaring above our nets. With such large wind gusts, a large tree fell down and took out one of our nets. Luckily, it missed our camp. We’ve learned to utilize canopy nets rather than nets on poles, this allows for higher nets and, with any luck, will give us more success.
We are collecting samples from the Micronesian Honeyeaters, Rufus Fantails, and Rota White Eyes to run DNA analysis to see if these populations are the species we see on other islands or if there are genetic differences on the island of Rota. Our program leader is also collecting swabs of the face to analyze any pollen present with the hope of finding evidence that these birds serve as important pollinators for various types of native plants.”
“March 8, 2023: We will clean up tomorrow before the majority of our team leaves. This also gives the birds at least 48 hours in our care to mimic the minimum adjustment period that birds would have before a translocation. One Rota White Eye remains fluffed and is being treated. This has been a good example of the value of health assessments for when translocation happens. The education team also did outreach to the local school and created short-term internship opportunities while we were here.”
Reading Dr. Kami Fox’s diary entries, you’ll see notes and scribbles from the mind of a conservation leader. Pages filled with lessons learned and ideas upon ideas for improvement for the next mission. However, on the last page, reflection settles in.
“March 18, 2023: Now being back in Fort Wayne, reflecting on my time in Rota, it was so much more remote, seeming almost magical, compared to anything I had seen before. All of the birds we released received unique leg bands and have been spotted foraging. The owner of the land we worked on was able to release birds alongside us. Having never seen a Rota White Eye up close, he felt honored to have the opportunity, continuing in the footsteps of his dad who taught him to value the unique trees and animals on their land. By engaging the local community, we hope to inspire them to care about the wildlife and habitats that exists in their own backyard.”