Race against time to save manumea

By Ivamere Nataro 11 November 2018, 12:00AM

There is limited time to save the manumea, says New Zealand-based Ornithologist and Ecologist, Dr. Rebecca Stirnemann.

Dr. Rebecca carried out a seven-year research in Samoa based on native species, in particular Samoa’s iconic manumea and the maomao birds. 

She started her research in the native forests of Samoa in 2010, installing 72 sound recorders in certain areas around Upolu and Savaii for a period of two weeks to identify where the manumea nested. 

Dr. Rebecca focused on the manumea and maomao birds because they were endangered species, and the manumea is the last species of its kind to still exist. 

“There used to be similar species in Tonga, in Fiji and all of them gone, so it’s just the manumea that is left, and now that species has become incredibly rare,” she said. 

Unlike before where manumeas are seen in flocks, it is not the case now, and she said to see a single manumea, one has to spend a lot of time in the forest. 

“Partially because they don’t call very much, they are very secretive as a species, but also because there’s so few of them left. But when they do call, so often lucky to see them and hear them calling, and when they do call it is often similar to the ‘moo of a cow, a little like the lupe too." 

“It’s a very beautiful bird; it’s about the size of a chicken, with a big head. It’s got a big head compared to the lupe and it’s got a big red hook beak. When they are babies, they got black beaks and they are not hooked, and they are more dark coloured and brown, not as beautiful as the adults. 

Dr. Rebecca said when she carried out her research, the only manumea she saw was the older ones with grey heads, and this is very worrying. 

“One juvenile manumea was seen by the Division of Environment and Conservation (D.E.C.) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.), but that’s the only baby one recorded in a long time. That makes things very worrying for the manumea because if you don’t have babies, there is no future for your species,” she said. 

Dr. Rebecca also carried out research on the manumea in the American Museum of Natural History Museum in New York, because the first palagi who shot the manumea in Samoa had taken it for naming purposes.  

“For a palagi, it was a new species at the time, and that’s what people were doing when they were naming species, and they called it not the manumea but the little dodo."

“They called it the little dodo because it is similar to the dodo bird, which is another endangered species that is very famous for becoming extinct, but it’s a little similar to that, and it turns out they are closely related, they’ve done the genetics."

“So that’s one of the birds they were closely related to, but all of them are gone, so they’re extinct similar species. We found when we went to the museum there was the first bird they named, and they called it the little dodo pigeon, and then they called it the tooth-billed pigeon because it has at the end of their little red beak a little serrated teeth and it’s how it grinds its fruit because it only eats fruit.”

Dr. Rebecca said at the museum they also looked at the baby manumea, which were dark all over. 

“And then there were some that had really silvery heads, and then there were others that really had dark heads, which we found that still had baby feathers and that’s when we knew those dark headed ones were quite young, and the silvery headed ones were the older birds.” 

The research work was carried out in partnership with D.E.C. and Auckland Zoo.

By Ivamere Nataro 11 November 2018, 12:00AM

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