The MAC Project 2014: Team Tinian joins Team Saipan
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The MAC Project 2014: Team Tinian joins Team Saipan

A separate group of MAC folks, after helping set up on Tinian, set off to Saipan to start the whole process over for the other objective this year: to bring Mariana fruit doves and golden white-eyes into AZA zoos to augment the captive populations. 

Herb Roberts, Mariana fruit dove studbook coordinator, was hoping to get 12 female doves, as they are in short supply. With the rain on Tinian reflective of cooler, wetter weather on Saipan as well, trapping was challenging. Fruit doves are best targeted by food source – look for what they are eating, and place the nets between roosts and the food. In the last two years the trap team was lucky – the weather had been typically dry before arrival, and the food was concentrated. This year forage was everywhere… in the low-growing field where we have had past luck catching birds moving down from the treetops to the shrubs, but also in the tops of the trees where vines offered forage aplenty, out of reach of our net set ups. With patience – we are talking 14 hour days with in some cases ZERO doves – the team caught 5 males and 7 females. The Disney veterinarian team surgically sexed the birds as they came in, and if more had been caught, males would have been released and females kept. But we counted our 12 beautiful blessings. The males’ genetic contribution to the captive population will be carefully applied. 

The final challenge will be to finalize all the transport arrangements – it’s difficult enough for the humans! They will be escorted to Houston by team members, and from there moved to other participating AZA zoos. With only a week before departure, one plane had been chartered and the rest of the legs were aligning to make the journey possible. 

Image 1. Lending a hand on the last day of Mariana fruit dove trapping. With low daily numbers I felt incredibly lucky to get to bring one in. 

Golden white-eyes were captured more quickly – the high number goal was 20, and at 19 the team shifted to dove efforts. Called “canario” locally, this golden yellow bird is only found on 2 islands in the world.

Something amazing happened one morning in the bird room on Saipan – Hannah Bailey (Houston Zoo) was quietly playing a song on her phone as she entered data, and, starting as a whisper, then with a gradual crescendo punctuated with high-pitched cheeps, the goldies sang an orchestrated chorus! I thought it was part of the song it was so perfectly tuned and timed to the music. I will never forget it! 

Image 2. A golden white-eye in the field in Saipan.

Image 3. Saipan spider near one of the dove nets.

Image 4. Micronesian honeyeater at the dove netting site. 

A key component to making conservation stick is getting the word out. Disney participants Leanne Blinco and Deidre Fontenot, DVM, have spearheaded MAC’s outreach program for the last 2 years, and this year they lined up the most exciting event yet – a booth at a 3 day Environmental Expo with conservation and natural resources groups showcasing their work in the Marianas to hundreds of elementary school children. Kids were bussed in, and MAC team members took shifts giving 10 minute talks to each class about what MAC does, and what THEY can do, to save the unique birds of their islands. 

Image 5. Peter and Herb prepping for the next group of kids at the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality Environmental EXPO in Saipan. 

We always have a rash of birthdays during the month long trip with overlapping 2 to 4 week shifts. We had a bash at a restaurant one night – when we are all together, we can take over a place! With half the team departing the next day, we had a final gathering on the lanai of the hotel, told war stories and showed off the proud scars of the field season, and enjoyed the company of new and old friends, all in the MAC family. And some of us said goodbye… 

Image 6. Birthday bash at a seafood restaurant in Garapan, Saipan.

Image 7. The 18 member 2014 MAC team. 

On the last afternoon, I finally made it to a local Saipan beach for an hour, no snorkel, only appreciation for the opportunity to watch the sun, sky, sea, and sand intermingle for a breath or two. Deeply grateful. 

Image 8. Wing Beach, Marpi, Saipan.

Posted by Zoo Info at 10:16 AM