Uncategorized

Hawaiian geese

5

Nene Propagation: End of an Era

Nene pair Red Rocket and Nu enjoy retirement.

On June 24, 2011, we handed over four nene (Hawaiian geese) to Haleakala National Park staff, who took them away for release in the crater of the dormant volcano on Maui, Hawaii. These birds had received the routine physical examination before their release and had been micro-chipped and banded for identification in the wild. Nothing unusual there: the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has released 442 nene (pronounced nay nay) since 1996, helping to augment wild populations on the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, as well as establishing an entirely new population on Molokai. But importantly, these birds represented the last two breeding pairs from the nene captive propagation flock at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC).

Robert Taylor, intern, and Sharon Belcher, senior research associate, get the nene ready for release.

In April this year, we had received the news from our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, that it was time to end the captive propagation-and-release program for nene. The nene population throughout Hawaii has risen to nearly 2,000 birds, having been at a low point of only 40 birds in the 1950s, representing a very significant conservation success story. With the population now at this level, captive propagation is no longer considered the most efficient tool for further recovery of the nene. But management of the wild population by our field partners will continue to play a vital role.

So having hatched 395 goslings, we are coming to terms with the fact that we will no longer have gray fuzz-balls as the focus of our attentions over the winter months. Crucially, however, our spirits are lifted by the knowledge that captive propagation and release have been instrumental tools in bringing back the nene from the brink of extinction. It is time for us to say “job well done.”

One pair of nene, known to the staff as Red Rocket and Nu (pictured at top), will remain at the MBCC facility. Red Rocket (a female) was wild hatched in December 1987, though in her 24 years she has never laid a single egg! She happily spends her time with the male, Nu, who was hatched at MBCC in June 1992 from a wild egg. We are very glad to still have these two retirees to keep us company.

Amy Kilshaw is a research associate at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Honk if You like Nene.

3

Nene: Movin’ On Up

MBCC staff release nene into their new home.

Red Rocket (#14) and NU (#30), our two oldest nene (or Hawaiian geese), have been around long enough to see plenty of changes. Both birds were hatched in the wild and came to live at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC) in 1987 and 1992 respectively. They were moved in 1996 from mosquito-proof buildings with concrete floors to outdoor pens with grass. Now they have brand-spanking-new pens, luxury suites of the nene world! Not only were the old pens past their use-by date, but they will soon be demolished to make space for new ‘alala (or Hawaiian crow) aviaries that will be constructed this fall (see Corvid Cupid).

An aerial view shows the new pens for nene.

Aaron’s Construction recently finished building four sturdy new pens to house our nene. Each pen comes furnished with a tented mesh “roof,” so adults and their goslings can remain fully flighted and ready for release. They have also been constructed of strong wire mesh walls to keep rats and mongoose at bay, and, of course, each pen comes equipped with shelter, hoses for easy cleaning, food stations, and pools for bathing and keeping cool in the summertime. We will keep a total of four pairs of nene, with our sights set on a goal of producing at least 75 birds over the next five years; all will be released at Haleakala Ranch as part of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s commitment to this safe harbor agreement.

Roy Newton offers a traditional Hawaiian blessing for the nene.

Following local cultural practice, and to prepare our nene for what we hope will be a fruitful life, required the help of a Hawaiian minister. On June 3, Roy Newton visited MBCC to deliver a Hawaiian/English blessing over the new pens and anointed each with a mixture of water and Hawaiian salt so that any animal entering them will be protected. NU and Rocket moved into their new home directly after the blessing, along with the rest of the nene flock at MBCC.

We hope NU and Rocket will be around to see many more happy changes. In the meantime, they are ready to offer a warm welcome and plenty of aloha spirit to MBCC visitors during Nene Awareness Day (mark your calendars for September 26)! Read about last year’s Nene Awareness Day.

Sharon Belcher is a senior research associate for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Read her previous post, ‘Alala Takes Extraordinary Flight.