ed. note: The Memphis Zoo is proud to support the conservation of rare native birds in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Marianas Avifauna Conservation program is a partnership between biologists at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, CNMI division of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve a threatened population of Forest Birds endangered by an invasive species, the brown tree snake. For the past two years, Herb Roberts and Fields Falcone, two members of the Memphis Zoo family, have participated.
After two days of travel and five flights we are on the island of Tinian, Herb Roberts and I, and a fresh team. We came from zoos all over the country again this year – St. Louis, Honolulu, Ft. Wayne, North Carolina, Toledo, Houston, Wichita… Missions this year are to move the second group of 50 rufous fantails (first group moved last year), from Tinian to Sarigan. Mariana fruit doves and golden white-eyes will be brought from Saipan to AZA Zoos to augment captive populations. Tinian monarchs will also be caught, held briefly, and released for a stress study. We are splitting up this year – we have a few days together on Tinian and then half the group will move to Saipan. Bittersweet – the core returning group only have a few days together. But new faces on both teams are in for a wild ride!
Quick refresher – The MAC Program (Mariana Avifauna Conservation Program) was started by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government, US Fish and Wildlife, Herb Roberts (Memphis Zoo/Pacific Bird Conservation), and Peter Luscomb (formerly Honolulu Zoo/Pacific Bird Conservation) to save the birds of the CNMI from the brown treesnake, a non-native snake that caused extinction and extirpation of most of the birds on Guam and is threatening the human-inhabited islands of the CNMI. With the participation of AZA Zoos, birds are moved to uninhabited islands without the snake to establish safe populations, and brought into Zoos as assurance colonies.
Tinian… quiet, small, very few street names. The size of the inner 40 loop of Memphis, but mostly just bush. Tinian… the site where the Enola Gay was launched with an atomic bomb headed for Hiroshima. Green and lush, where east meets west and takes a nap at high noon.
Our trapping site is along the WWII airstrips. It is eerie, walking along the old asphalt on this first day, seeing my first Tinian monarch, native only to this island. Thinking back on the Memphis Zoo’s first Tinian fledgling survival for the AZA captive program just last year, so difficult to propagate, yet here they come down from the branches and peer curiously at us.
Hotel accommodations, more like an old camp. The AC is sort of working, the purported hot water is not, the shower spits less than a spring sprinkle. We’ve found one restaurant with fare from Japanese teriyaki to Thai curry to hot wings. And thus the adventure begins…
--Fields Falcone, China Keeper
Image 1: Flying in a 6-seater over Tinian’s WWII airstrips where the Enola Gay was launched in WWII. Our trapping site is here.
Image 2: Welcome to Tinian!
Image 3: The groups awaits the barge that will bring our supplies from Saipan.
Image 4: First view of the water, as the barge approaches in the late afternoon, only an hour late – not bad for island time.
Image 5: A blurry shot of my first Tinian monarch!