How The Creators Of “Angry Birds” Helped Four Endangered Bird Species Get A New Lease On Life

An international team of conservation organizations has been working together to save them—and it’s working.

This story is part of Nudge for Change’s “Everyday Wins Against Trump” series, which documents examples of love trumping hate, small actions making a big difference, and victories for the #ResistTrump movement in the U.S. and around the world (because we could all use a little extra hope and inspiration right now).

Two years ago, a team of international conservation organizations, funded in part by video game company Rovio, which makes Angry Birds, came together in a massive joint undertaking to save four of the rarest bird species in the world.

“Rovio’s beloved Angry Birds share many of the same problems as the birds of the South Pacific,” a representative from BirdLife international explains in a video about the partnership (below). “A long time ago, these beautiful birds were safe and the islands prospered. But today, new predators have been introduced to these protected islands.”

While the predators in the video game are adorable (if cranky) green pigs, the ones responsible for the endangerment of nearly half of all bird species in the region are of a smaller and furrier variety: Rats. Introduced by early human explorers, the invasive species has no natural predators, so their numbers have exploded on many South Pacific islands, and eggs are one of a rat’s favorite delicacies.

According to BirdLife International, it is believed that 90% of all bird extinctions since 1500 are the result of non-native mammals introduced to their habitats by humans.

One island chain in particular, the Polynesian Acteon & Gambier island group, is home to four of the world’s rarest endangered bird species: The Polynesian Ground-dove (locally known as Tutururu), the Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (AKA Titi), the Atoll Fruit-dove, and the red-footed Booby. There are fewer than 900 Titis still alive on the planet, and fewer than 200 Tutururus, which don’t exist anywhere other than the Acteon Gambier islands.

In 2015, after receiving funding from organizations and corporations including Rovio, conservationists embarked on one of the most ambitious island restoration projects ever implemented in an effort to remove the rats from six remote islands in the Polynesian Acteon Gambier island group. Their efforts involved nine permits, 165 helicopter flight hours, three ships, and 31 people from six countries (representing three continents). The islands are so remote, it took workers twelve days to travel to and from them from the mainland.

Just two years later, it looks like their strenuous efforts have paid off. New research published by BirdLife International indicates that five of the six targeted islands are officially predator-free, meaning the available habitat available for the endangered birds has more than doubled.

Early signs suggest the Tutururu, Titi, Red-footed Booby, and Atoll Fruit-dove are already on their way to recovery. A total of nineteen species of seabirds are expected to benefit from the project—and it isn’t just birds that benefit from the removal of the rats.

“Without rats, local land managers reported a doubling of their copra (coconut kernel) production in 2016 — a major source of income for these isolated communities,” Joel Aumeran, a spokesperson for the local Catholic Church, told BirdLife International. “Safeguarding our islands’ natural value is a foundation of Polynesian culture.”

Next, the conservationists hope to increase the habitat range of the endangered bird species by introducing them to several other predator-free islands in the region. It’s a conservation technique that has worked well in Polynesia in the past.

Researchers are also hopeful that other dwindling endemic plant and animal species (ones that don’t exist anywhere else) will begin to recover and thrive in their newly rat-free environment, and that they’ll be able to scale the Acteon & Gambier operation to other islands with bird populations facing similar threats.

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