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On the Move

Nene are doing so well on Kauai, some may be moved to help repopulate other islands.


Photo: Norma Bustos, Division of Forestry and Wildlife

Some nene on Kauai might have to get used to a new neighborhood. The state bird is thriving on the island, with an estimated 850 to 900 birds, about half of the state’s total population of nearly 2,000. Exactly why the Kauai birds are doing so well can’t be pinpointed without scientific studies, but it’s likely because the island is free of mongoose, one of the nene’s biggest enemies. For wildlife biologists, this means nene could potentially be relocated to other islands where the birds already exist in protected areas.

Historically, nene were found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands; in the 1700s, it’s estimated that about 25,000 birds existed. By the mid-20th century, however, factors such as hunting, the introduction of predators and loss of habitat reduced nene numbers down to as few as 30. To save the species, a captive breeding program began in the late 1940s, and, until today, has helped reintroduce nene to conservation areas on Maui, Molokai, Kauai and the Big Island.

For the past 10 years, state and federal agencies have been collaborating with the Zoological Society of San Diego, which manages the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, to breed nene in captivity on Maui. (The program is housed out of an old prison in Olinda, just outside of Makawao.) Since 1998, two years before the society took over the program, 360 goslings have been raised—which means they reached 10 weeks and said goodbye to their parents in exchange for their own, independent lives.

Thanks to Kauai’s wild population, however, breeding nene in captivity could be a thing of the past. “The recovery efforts have been so successful on Kauai that they’ve prompted us to consider and very likely shift our strategy from captive propagation to relocation,” says Scott Fretz, wildlife program manager for the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. “As soon as we can determine which is more cost effective, we can make an informed decision.”

For some Kauai residents, talks of moving the nene might be music to their ears. “We’re running into problems where the birds get into residential areas and land on people’s roofs or get into people’s farms and eat their lettuce,” says Fretz. “Because of their increasing numbers, we are now seeing human conflicts.” If the birds are to get a new zip code, the move will happen as early as next year.



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Honolulu Magazine April 2020
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