SAVING THE FIJI PETREL

The Fiji petrel is one of the world’s rarest and most elusive birds. First known from just one immature specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji by naturalist John MacGillivray, the species went missing with no further confirmed sightings for almost 130 years. In 1984, an adult was caught on Gau and then released. Since then, there have been only a few unconfirmed reports of the birds at sea and groundings on the island of Gau — that is until in 2009, when the bird was photographed for the first time soaring above the ocean about 25 miles south of Gau.

The elusiveness and rarity of this petrel are the principle reasons that little is known about the species’ population size, breeding ecology, or foraging behavior. But it’s believed that the species is endemic to the island of Gau. Local knowledge of the Fiji petrel is restricted to a few lines of a traditional indigenous lullaby. Discovering its nesting habitat will be crucial to creating viable conservation measures. In 1980, the International Council for Bird Preservation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Fiji petrel under the Endangered Species Act. Finally, after 29 years and extensive Center legal involvement, in late 2009 the Service listed the petrel as endangered throughout its range.