Goodbye to Guam

After the Rota release it was back to the computers for more work creating a population management plan for the 50 rails in AZA facilities and the roughly 100 rails housed at Guam DAWR. These plans include which individuals should breed with whom, individual animals being moved within the AZA and between the AZA and Guam DAWR, and a super typhoon plan (which identifies the most valuable birds for recreating the population—these birds should be moved to a secure location first should a super typhoon threaten Guam).

It also looks at release strategies for the coming year. Since rails can hatch up to 10 clutches of eggs a year, and individuals are sexually mature as early as 5 months of age, it’s critical to create a plan that sustains the captive facilities and supplements the release sites in the coming year.


The field breeding facility on Guam.

Planning with Guam DAWR Coordinator of Bird Programs Suzanne Medina and Laura Duenas, who oversees all the rails that live at Guam DAWR.

During our last day on Guam, Joe, Suzanne and I went to look at some future release site for rails on Guam. There have been a few releases on the island in the last 20 years. Some releases were more successful than others. In addition to brown tree snakes, which are still prevalent, there’s also a large population of feral cats and dogs. Future release sites are looking to exclude those species.

There were two promising sites on the island’s north end. One was on land managed by the U.S. Navy, and the other was 125 acres at a Wildlife Refuge Area managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


A sign explaining the fence being erected to protect Guam rails.

The task of building a fence to protect the Wildlife Refuge Area should wrap up later this fall. The fence is designed specifically with snakes and cats in mind. [Photo: snake proof & cat proof fence on Guam]. Vegetation will be cleared nearby to prevent animals from getting over via tree branches. The only way in would be to tackle the fence itself.

In this photo you can see the bump on the fence that will prevent snakes from climbing it to get into the area. When the snakes hit the bump, their body weight will pull them down to the ground.


The bump prevents snakes from climbing the fence.

The top of the fence is called a floppy fence. This prevents cats from entering the habitat by jumping onto the snake bump out. Floppy fence design has been successful in other reintroduction sites where feral cats have been a problem.


A look at the habitat being protected for rails.

The habitat the fence will surround is beautiful. It will go all the way down to the ocean (and into the water) before it ends. After the fence goes up, efforts will be made to remove all snakes and cats already in the area before we release any birds.

On our last evening on Guam, Joe and I did a radio program to discuss the Guam Rail SSP and its efforts. It was a great way to share all we had accomplished over the last week with the Guam DAWR staff as well as the overall picture of what’s going on with Guam rails. It’s nice to highlight that even though Guam rails are extinct in the wild, there’s still a small population left. Great efforts are being made in the hope that one day they’ll be back living on Guam.


Guam Rail Species Survival Plan® Vice Coordinator Joe Barkowski and Megan talk about Guam rail conservation on a local radio program.

It was sad to say goodbye to our colleagues on the last day, but Joe and I felt that we had accomplished our goals while we were there. We have a good plan for the coming year, and there are some very exciting future plans, including these new release sites. Now, though, it’s nice to be back home with my family, both at home and at the zoo.

Megan Ross

Megan Ross, Ph.D., is vice president of animal care at Lincoln Park Zoo and coordinator of the Guam Rail Species Survival Plan®.

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