The nene, or Hawaiian geese, appear to like the Kauai resort, despite years of efforts to move them.
So in an effort to prevent the endangered nene from nesting at the resort located between two main runways at Lihue Airport, state and federal wildlife officials are trying a new tactic — recruiting a pair of border collies to chase them out.
The one-year pilot project, spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, state Department of Transportation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was announced at a press conference on Kauai today.
Officials will use the dogs, as well as humans, to continually haze the endangered Hawaiian geese during breeding season from August to March.
“We are in complete support of this pilot project and it appears to be accomplishing its goals very quickly,” said Sheri S. Mann, DOFAW’s Kauai branch manager. “DOFAW, in collaboration with several other DLNR divisions, is currently establishing two new nene sanctuaries, east and south of the airport. It is our hope that nene leaving the airport area will make these new sanctuaries their home.”
Since the mid-1980s, the nene have been visiting and nesting at Hokuala Resort near the airport, where they face death and pose a safety hazard due to potential air strikes. Fortunately, there have been no air strikes yet, officials said.
For five years, state and federal officials translocated hundreds of nene, Hawaii’s official state bird, from the resort to other sites on Maui and Hawaii island. After the translocation project ended in April 2016, the nene have since returned and “resumed loafing and nesting at the resort,” according to officials.
The specially trained border collies, accompanied by handlers, will chase and flush the nene from the resort multiple times. A human spotter with an infrared scope or night vision binoculars will observe where the birds go, so that they can be flushed again.
Among the dogs to be put to work on Kauai are Quinn, a four-year-old border collie who was trained from a young age at a farm in North Carolina.
When the dogs are unavailable, USFWS personnel will also be allowed to approach the nene on golf carts, or by running, walking or waving handheld flags, in order to flush them from the property. The hazing, however, will not include any form of noise disturbance so as not to disturb guests at the resort.
Wildlife officials will also be careful not to disturb the active nests of other native bird species, including the Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian coot, and Hawaiian duck. Only nene can be hazed during the project, unless they have goslings or are molting.
During the pilot project, data will be collected to help identify hazing hotspots as well as the tactic’s effectiveness.
Each hazing event will be logged, with details including date, time, location, hazing method and the nene’s response, and whether it walked away, flew away, or moved into water, and how far. The birds will also be identified and recorded by band numbers, when possible.
In addition, five female nene were captured and outfitted with satellite transmitters, and then released, to collect data on their movement patterns during the project.
Dogs have been successful in chasing Canada Geese from other locations, officials said, and the hope is that they will be successful with nene geese as well.