Maui ranch to host sanctuary for state bird
Eight nene goslings, Hawaii's state bird, were recently reintroduced to Piiholo Ranch, where they will be raised in an acre-size, custom-built pen near the center of the property.
The nene were born in captivity at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Olinda and transferred to the ranch in an ongoing effort to repopulate this native, endangered bird. The four males and four females were brought to the ranch in mid-August with their wings trimmed to help stabilize them in their home environment of the pen; their wing feathers will grow out by springtime, and they will be seen flying around the ranch and beyond.
"We are trying to put back into the land what man has taken out," said Duke Baldwin, the ranch's resource manager. "It's for the greater good, Hawaii's natural ecosystem, and the general conservation effort of the island of Maui."
Nene are found today primarily within the boundaries of Haleakala National Park, where reintroduction efforts began in 1962. A population was reintroduced in West Maui in 1995. Biologists anticipate that the additional available habitat on Piiholo Ranch will provide the core areas for nene to become established with a long-term recovery goal of 75 nene on the ranch.
Unique to the Hawaiian Islands, this medium-size goose grows up to 27 inches tall and 5.5 pounds in weight. Throughout the centuries, the nene has adapted to terrestrial life with greatly reduced webbing between the toes, smaller wings and larger hind legs. Both sexes have similar cream, gray- to chestnut-brown and black plumage.
The nene has the longest nesting season reported for wild geese, with eggs being reported during all months except May, June and July. However, most of the birds in the wild nest between October and March. The nene nests on the ground, laying from three to five eggs on average; goslings typically remain with their parents until the next breeding season.
In 1952 the remaining nene population was estimated to be about 30 birds. Current estimates are around 1,300 birds in different populations on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai and Kauai.
Almost half of the statewide population exists on Kauai, probably due to the fact that predatory mongoose are not known to be established on the island.
Other factors that might attribute to the success of nene on Kauai are an active predator control program near nesting sites, and effective fencing, greater availability of lowland sites and irrigation of areas around Kilauea Point, which might attract nesting birds and increase gosling survival.
Many factors have contributed to the decline of the nene.
The first humans to Hawaii exploited nene for food, destroyed lowland habitat and introduced the first mammalian predators, such as Polynesian rats, pigs and dogs. The exploitation of the bird for food, by Hawaiians and non-Polynesian settlers, is believed to have been responsible for substantial population declines in lowland areas. Hunting was a major limiting factor until a hunting ban was passed and enforced in 1907.
Currently, it is believed that the following threats are major obstacles to nene recovery: predation; nutrition deficiency due to habitat degradation; lack of lowland habitat; human-caused disturbance and mortality; behavioral problems; and inbreeding depression. Predation by non-native species including mongoose, cats and rats is believed to be the greatest threat to the species.
For more information or ranch reservations, call toll-free 866-572-5544 or locally at 808-357-5544; or visit www.piiholo.com.
Note to Web readers: The photo with this story could not be carried in our Web edition because of difficulties securing online rights from the author. The Star-Bulletin Web staff regrets the omission.|