Moving Birds in Hawai'i: Assisted Colonisation in a Colonised Land Assisted colonisation in a colonised land

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Thom van Dooren


In September 2011, a delicate cargo of 24 Nihoa Millerbirds was carefully loaded by conservationists onto a ship for a three-day voyage to Laysan Island in the remote Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The goal of this effort was to establish a second population of this endangered species, an “insurance population” in the face of the mounting pressures of climate change and potential new biotic arrivals. But the millerbird, or ulūlu in Hawaiian, is just one of the many avian species to become the subject of this kind of “assisted colonisation.” In Hawai'i, and around the world, recent years have seen a broad range of efforts to safeguard species by finding them homes in new places. Thinking through the ulūlu project, this article explores the challenges and possibilities of assisted colonisation in this colonised land. What does it mean to move birds in the context of the long, and ongoing, history of dispossession of the Kānaka Maoli, the Native Hawaiian people? How are distinct but entangled process of colonisation, of unworlding, at work in the lives of both people and birds? Ultimately, this article explores how these diverse colonisations might be understood and told responsibly in an era of escalating loss and extinction.

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Extinction (Peer Reviewed)