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Where else might you find a news headline lamenting the death of a goose? Only in Hawaii.
In the Honolulu dailies on New Year’s Eve, while many in the rest of the country were preparing geese for their New Year’s family feasts, there appeared the shocking and depressing news that a car had struck and killed a nene goose in Haleakala National Park on Maui. An immediate alarm went up calling for park visitors to drive cautiously and avoid feeding the endangered animals.
Nene have been struck and killed by motorists before, about once a year on average. Having even one hit is a huge loss, particularly if it’s one of a breeding pair. (The goose struck on New Year’s Eve was a breeding adult.)
Haleakala National Park is home to about 250 nene, half of which are known to breed each year. The nene, or Hawaiian goose, is an endangered species on state and federal listings. It’s also the Hawaii state bird. During your vacation in the islands, you can see nene not only near Haleakala, but also on the Big Island of Hawaii. Though you can find nene in many other places on the island, the largest concentration of wild birds is in and around the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Volcano. Nene are inquisitive birds and their protected status means they have lost some fear of humans. They will often stroll over to check out some activity they feel threatens their space. They can be loud, making an unmistakable honk as they fly or as they are socializing. Be advised that it is unlawful to touch, feed, harass, or chase the nene. They are protected and every nene is banded.
There now are fewer than 800 nene geese left in the state, and this is the only place where they live. Several characteristics help to make them unique: Their feet are longer than other geese. They have a shorter wing span, and they nest during the winter. Their toenails are longer and h3er than those of other geese. The pads on their feet are thicker because of the habitat in which they live. They can be found in places that are 4,000 feet above sea level such as in the mountains, on volcano slopes, and in craters. The nene became endangered due to hunting, and to predators such as mongooses, dogs and cats. In the late 1950s, because of concern that the nene would become extinct, efforts were undertaken to try to protect the species and the nene now are making a comeback thanks to their protected status and serious efforts to repopulate the species.
Today,the largest predators of the nene are… well, cars. At Haleakala National Park, officials warn visitors not to feed nene because the birds learn to approach cars rather than flee from them.
So the rule is to look but not touch. And remember: If you should accidentally knock one off, it could make headlines.