A new, informative website provides resources and a place to report possible botulism outbreaks in Hawaiʻi’s waterbird populations. The launch of the reporting tool by the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Ecology Lab at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa is already helping managers and researchers address the serious threat that botulism poses to waterbirds on the islands. The work was supported with a 2020 Partnership grant from Pacific Birds.
Avian botulism is a paralytic disease which causes the infected birds to be unable to lift their heads or properly fly or walk. Hundreds of endangered waterbirds can be affected every year in Hawaiʻi, with the majority dying from the disease. Unfortunately, most birds die before they can be rescued, but with swift reporting the outbreaks can be limited.
The new web portal, housed at the Hawaiʻi Waterbirds Partnership, is both a resource and a reporting tool. Managers can quickly report when an outbreak is occurring; the network will alert partners so that they can increase search efforts for sick birds or carcasses at their own sites. This will help reduce the severity of further outbreaks, because avian botulism creates a “bird-to-bird cycle” where maggots feed on dead birds, concentrating the toxin, and are then eaten by other birds, poisoning them as well. Data are also shared with the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership (WHISPers).
An Alert Network in Action
In July, the new reporting portal was tested when two cases of suspected botulism were found at Hamakua Marsh on Oʻahu. An adult and chick Aeʻo (Hawaiin Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) were found alive, although later succumbed to the disease in veterinary care. The case was reported so that other managers could step up patrols for sick or dead birds. Over time, the aim is to have all botulism cases reported to increase these rapid responses.