HONOLULU (AP) — Wildlife officials are starting a campaign to save the endangered Hawaiian duck, or koloa.
The chocolate brown koloa maoli is an endangered species largely because of cross-breeding with the common mallard duck, which was brought to Hawaii.
Scientists believe there are fewer than 3,000 true koloa remaining in the wild.
The duck has been in the Hawaiian Islands for at least 100,000 years. Cross-breeding with mallards began sometime in the late 1800s when the more common mallard was imported for ornamental ponds, hunting and farming.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended removing feral mallard ducks to help prevent the koloa from becoming extinct. It’s illegal to bring the mallards into Hawaii.
One of the researchers working with the koloa, graduate student Caitlin Wells of the University of California, Davis, is attempting to pinpoint the number of hybrid birds in the wild.
While the koloa’s genetic makeup serves as a good match for habitat in the Hawaiian islands, the mallard’s genes stress domestication.
“So the more they interbreed, the more we might get a mixed population where it’s only the domesticated genes that dominate, and we’ve lost all of the native genes from the native ducks,” Wells said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawaii want to raise awareness about koloa.