On any given Saturday at the Maui Swap Meet in Kahului, you’ll find wildlife biologist and artist Che Frausto across from the shave ice stand. He’s in his booth, surrounded by images of creatures from mauka to makai. Tall, with a gentle nature and warm smile, Frausto stands beneath a sign reminding us that Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world.
Intrigued by images of honu on his flag and across his coloring books, people always stop.
“They want to help, but they can’t protect what they don’t know exists,” says Frausto, the 28-year-old founder of Advance Wildlife Education.
He tells the story of a 6-year-old girl who bought one of his AWE books on marine wildlife. “Her grandmother told me the girl started coloring all the time and watched the popular video on turtles with straws stuck in their noses.”
The Washington Post video is the stuff of nightmares. Undeterred, the girl began collecting straws and cans around her condominium.
“Even just a short conversation with him will give you a glimpse of a truly kind and caring heart,” said Vashti Daise, a seventh grade teacher at Lahaina Intermediate and one of the many who was drawn to the AWE booth on a recent Saturday. “His love for wildlife and his desire to educate youth is much needed in our world.”
Growing up in Pasadena, Calif., Frausto was surrounded by snakes, lizards and wolf hybrids that lived in the wild. He drew when he was younger but longed to be a veterinarian. Unable to get past the idea of doing surgery on animals, he turned to wildlife biology, studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
After working with the U.S. Forest Service, he landed a Kupu internship on the island five years ago and moved to Paia. The internship turned into a full-time field position with the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project. Working with volunteers, Frausto realized many people didn’t understand what the birds were up against and that there was little public awareness of the issues threatening Hawaii’s wildlife.
“Everybody needs to know about their local species,” Frausto says.
So he started to design educational items during his off hours, launching Advance Wildlife Education and eventually leaving the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project to focus full time on his small business.
“One of the most important aspects of his work is how well he incorporates educational information,” says Mary Cockett, Haleakala area manager for the Hawaii Pacific Parks Association. “He’s truly helping to educate visitors and locals alike, and this in turn helps us to accomplish our mission.”
During the first day of the 2018 Merrie Monarch Festival, Frausto’s books on Native Hawaiian species sold out, and he had to fly home to restock. There are nine books now in his product line, along with iiwi and sea turtle wrap bracelets, bamboo shirts, temporary tattoos and stickers. In additional to the weekly swap meet at the University of Hawaii Maui College, his merchandise is sold at local gift shops and attractions as well as on his website advancewildlifeeducation.org.
Frausto is headed to the Tokyo International Gift Show this month, an opportunity he learned about thanks to the Small Business Development Center office in Kihei.
“Che has an incredible work ethic,” says Daise from Lahaina, who’s had Frausto present to her students. “It’s good for kids to learn of careers outside of the common Maui options.”
They thrill seeing pictures of his days with the Seabird Project, learning all the things they, too, can do for wildlife and for themselves, through Frausto’s example.
“His passion for the subject matter shines through,” says Cockett. “It’s hard to miss the intent behind his products.”
It’s also hard to miss his simple message: “All the species need love,” Frausto says.