Manumea under threat of extinction

By Ivamere Nataro ,

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The cutting of native trees and the existence of invasive species are increasingly putting a threat to the endemic manumea bird population in Samoa.

The cutting of native trees and the existence of invasive species are increasingly putting a threat to the endemic manumea bird population in Samoa. (Photo: Misiona Simo/Samoa Observer)

The cutting of native trees and the existence of invasive species are increasingly putting a threat to the endemic manumea bird population in Samoa.

With the manumea species declining in numbers, the Samoa Conservation Society Environmental and Geographic Information System Specialist, James Atherton said there’s a need to preserve and protect Samoa’s national bird. 

“The manumea is restricted to the deeper native forests. You can find them in pockets in good native forests in Ofato in the center of Upolu, Savaii also has pockets of them,” Mr. Atherton said. 

“But they are becoming more and more restricted to these native patches as the forests are removed for agriculture or invasive species take over the forests.  Manumeas feed on native trees, so where we have trees that are introduced spreading in the forests, reduces the habitat quality for the manumea.”

He said cats and rats are a major impact to the extinction of the iconic bird. 

“So the further you move away from the villages, the less of an impact these invasive mammals have, having said that we have found evidence of cats and rats way in the interior in the center of Savaii, cloud forests you can find cat species and skulls, so they are active even in the remote places in Samoa. 

Rats probably little less so right up in the center of the islands, but cats are found right through the islands.” 

Mr. Atherton told the Samoa Observer that manumea are also accidently targeted by pigeon and flying fox hunters. 

“Samoans traditionally hunt pigeons and flying foxes, which is part of the diet and also the culture to eat pigeon and the manumea being a pigeon is sometimes killed. It’s normally not the target of hunters; they normally do it for the Pacific pigeon or what we call the lupe.” 

He said there’s also the commercial trade of pigeons, and at times manumea falls in the trap because of bycatch. 

“So it is traditional but at the same time illegal,” Mr. Atherton said.  

“We want to be mindful of cultural practices, but at the same time we need to do something about our national bird because if we allow hunting to continue, than it will wipe out our manumea.”

This is why his organisation is initiating a campaign to raise awareness on the manumea species and emphasise its conservation. 

“So what will come out of the campaign is how to manage the hunting threat, whether we can implement a ban on the commercial sale for example and allow for subsistence hunting at a national level, maybe in areas where the manumea is found to actually try and have a hunting ban in place to protect the manumea,” Mr. Atherton said. 

He explained the manumea is very hard to observe, hard to see and often hides back in the background, it perches high up in the trees, and it is very hard to see visually, the call it’s mimicked by the Pacific pigeon or the lupe, and so often people confuse the two birds. 

Mr. Atherton’s message to the community is value our biodiversity as it is part of Samoa’s culture. 

“About one third of our plants and animals are only found in Samoa, but more importantly than that, they are part of the culture ever since people came to Samoa, they have harvested bird, plants for medicinal purposes, house construction, and bird feathers used in ornamentation. 

“We cannot possibly have a living culture without species that culture evolve with and are part of. So our message is more than just saving tree and birds, it’s actually saving the culture.”

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