A half-dozen palila that were hatched and raised at the San Diego Zoo Global’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center were released into the open Big Island air on Sunday and Monday by Hawaii officials.

The palila are distant relatives of finches and are the last surviving members of 16 species of “finch-billed, seed-eating birds” in the main Hawaiian Islands, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

A palila being integrated into a Big Island forest. DLNR

“They were once found on Kauai and Oahu, but are now found only high on the slopes of Mauna Kea,” a press release explains. “The multi-year effort to try and boost their numbers and prevent their possible extinction involves a large number of collaborators, many of whom had representatives on hand to assist with today’s release into the Puu Mali Restoration Area on towering Mauna Kea’s northern flank.”

Palila have been affected by habitat loss, degradation and introduced predators such as cats and mongooses.

Officials are praising the what is described as an “encouraging first step” in a recovery process.

“This step toward the recovery of palila would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the partner organizations over the last 30 years,” said Michelle Bogardus, Maui Nui and Hawaii Island Team Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Recovering endangered species is a complex process that takes time, but the long-term efforts to restore habitat on Mauna Kea and breed palila in conservation breeding centers is allowing us to take this next step forward.”

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