Lava overruns
nene nesting turf

2 breeding pairs find their
old homes under several feet
of new Big Island landscape

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Never having learned to deal with non-native predators like dogs, cats, rats and mongooses, Hawaii's endangered native nene have a tough time in life.

Now four of them in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park have a new hassle: Lava has blanketed their homes.

The two breeding pairs, which have hatched healthy goslings in the past, now find themselves ready to lay and care for eggs again, but their old homes are under several feet of new rock, said park ranger Mardie Lane.

For the confused nene (Hawaiian goose), never noted as the Einsteins of the bird world, this presents a new addition to life's challenges. And it presents a new temptation to park tourists, who may want to feed the homeless birds.

"A fed nene is a dead nene," Lane warned.

The nene, not being complete dodos, learn that they can wander up to a parked tourist car, look forlorn and get a handout, Lane said.

The trouble is, tourists come and go. Lava-viewing visitors at the end of Chain of Craters Road numbered 3,000 a day just a few weeks ago. Now they are down to 1,300 to 1,800 per day, Lane said.

Once dependent on tourist welfare handouts, the nene forgot how to find food for themselves, and the comparison to the extinct dodo comes back to mind.

There is some incentive for tourists to keep coming. The main lava flow has not changed much, still within easy walking distance of the road.

And a new finger of lava is just 150 feet or so above the road, said Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge Don Swanson.

The main flow is creating a new black-sand beach on unstable rock that can collapse thunderously into the ocean at any time, Lane warned.

Stay off this "bench" of new rock, Lane advised.

"You just don't want to leave your footprints in the sand," she said.

Or you, too, could resemble the dodo.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

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