Guam-based conservation helps save endangered species

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
  • Air Force Print News
Conservation efforts here are protecting endangered species and allowing for the re-introduction of two bird types.

Andersen Air Force Base has a national wildlife refuge covered by a limestone forest, a sensitive island ecosystem that supports native fauna and flora, including threatened and endangered species.

Dana Lujan, chief conservation officer here, said it is challenging protecting animal species including the Mariana crow, the Marianas fruit bat, the Micronesia starling and the Guam rail.

The Guam rail is a flightless native bird that thrived here until a military cargo ship accidentally introduced the brown tree snake here during World War II. The snake ate all the rails’ eggs, making it extinct on the island.

Base and Guam officials are now re-introducing two species of birds, the Guam rail and the Kingfisher.

“We are not having any luck with having these species reproduce in captivity,” Mr. Lujan said.

Officials released the birds into a snake-controlled environment in the jungle. Although the snakes didn’t kill them this time, feral cats wiped them out. Other animals that don’t originate from Guam that are causing problems are deer from the Philippines and feral pigs.

Controlled hunting helps with the deer and pig population, while officials are still struggling with containing the brown tree snake.

The Mariana crow became an endangered species in 1984. There are only 10 left on the island, all of which are located on base. Andersen AFB is working with Government of Guam officials to erect solar-powered electrical barriers at the base of trees that contain crow’s nests.

They periodically use a mirror to check for eggs in the nest, and when they find one they exchange the real egg with a fake one so they can ensure its safety by incubating and hand-raising the crow until it is big enough to release into the wild again.

“Although we have an electrical barrier, the egg is still susceptible to snakes,” Mr. Lujan said. “One time we caught six snakes in a tree and one of the snakes had the dummy egg in its mouth.”

Teamed up with Guam’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, they recently released 10 crows, but only two survived. Experts think they died because of their failure to forage.

“Basically, they didn’t know how to find food,” Mr. Lujan said.

“As part of the recovery effort, we help control the tree snake population, which assists the (birds) in their survivability,” Mr. Lujan said.

Conservation officials have placed snake traps across the base to control the brown tree snake, which has decimated the native bird population on Guam. Not just birds were wiped out, but bats, too.

Once a delicacy on Guam, the Mariana fruit bat is now an endangered species with only 100 left on Andersen AFB.

“The young attach to their mother,” Mr. Lujan said. “However, when the mother forages for food, she leaves her young behind, which makes them susceptible to tree snakes.”

“In the future, we want to conduct an area-wide snake trapping in the bats’ area,” he said.

Mr. Lujan supervises 30 conservation programs on Andersen to help save what they have and re-introduce what they lost.