Tuesday, November 28, 2006

November 28

RARE BIRDFor humanity, the long march to planetary domination witnessed another victory over a hapless competitor two years ago, when the critically endangered po'o-uli -- one of more than two dozen species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, all of whom are either extinct or critically endangered -- suffered a mortal blow.

On 28 November 2004, the last known member of the species died of avian malaria after nearly three months in captivity at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Two other po'o-uli had been spotted in the wild during the 1990s, but neither had been sighted for at least a year and were believed as well to be dead. Melamprosops phaeosoma had only been known to biologists since 1973, when it was first described by University of Hawai'i students on the east slope of Haleakala volcano; the small finch-like bird numbered around 140 in 1980, but habitat loss and non-native predators like cats, rats and mongoose reduced the po'o-uli to only a handful by 2002. Feral pigs, which are abundant throughout the islands of Hawai'i, also imperiled the po'o-uli by destroying the subcanopy trees on which the birds relied.

In an utterly pointless gesture, tissue samples of the last po'o-uli were extracted and frozen in the unlikely event that cloning technology one day allows us to reconstitute lost species.


By awful coincidence, November 28 is also La Ku'oko'a, the date on which the independent status of the Kingdom of Hawai'i was acknowledged by the British and the French in 1843. The Anglo-French proclamation, issued that day from London, declared that
Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the King of the French, taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) of a government capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations, have thought it right to engage, reciprocally, to consider the Sandwich Islands as an Independent State, and never to take possession, neither directly or under the title of Protectorate, or under any other form, of any part of the territory of which they are composed.
American commercial interests and manifest destinarians, undeterred by the 1843 proclamation, sought for decades to acquire the islands for the United States. By 1893, the imperial dreams bore fruit as an coup led by American planters disposed of Hawai'ian sovereignty and submitted a formal request for absorption as a territory of the U.S. The never-ratified annexation treaty signed on February 14 of that year reads as a grotesque inversion of the 1843 proclamation:
The United States of America and the Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands, in view of the natural dependence of those Islands upon the United States, of their geographical proximity thereto, of the intimate part taken by citizens of the United States in there implanting the seeds of Christian civilization, of the long continuance of their exclusive reciprocal commercial relations whereby their mutual interests have been developed, and the preponderant and paramount share thus acquired by the United States and their citizens in the productions, industries and trade of the said Islands, and especially in view of the desire expressed by the said Government of the Hawaiian Islands that those Islands shall be incorporated into the United States as an integral part thereof and under their sovereignty, in order to provide for and assure the security and prosperity of the said Islands, the High Contracting Parties have determined to accomplish by treaty an object so important to their mutual and permanent welfare.
In 1898, the dissolution of Hawai'ian independence was formalized, and the islands were brought beneath the pacific wings of William McKinley's America. Under U.S. control, the holiday of La Ku'oko'a was suppressed; the American celebration of Thanksgiving -- second only to Columbus day in the canon of imperial holidays -- was offered as a substitute.