Study Finds Endangered Hawaiian Geese at Risk From Disease Spread by Feral Cats

A new study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases has documented evidence of “widespread contamination of habitat” in Hawai’i caused by feral cats. This latest research has alarming implications for endangered Hawaiian Geese (Nene) and other animals found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Endangered Nene (Hawaiian Goose) is the direct and indirect victim of disease-spreading feral cats. Photo: Jack Jeffrey

Endangered Nene (Hawaiian Goose) is the direct and indirect victim of disease-spreading feral cats. Photo: Jack Jeffrey

The peer-reviewed study, conducted by scientists from the United States Geological Survey, the U.S.  Department of Agriculture, the University of Tennessee, and the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, evaluated the prevalence of infection with Toxoplasma gondii among Nene (Hawaiian Geese), Hawai’i’s state bird. T. gondii is a protozoan parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in humans and wildlife and is the “most-commonly encountered infectious disease” in Nene, the study reports. T. gondii relies on cats to complete its life cycle and is excreted into the environment through cat feces. A single cat may excrete hundreds of millions of infectious eggs (called “oocysts”) in its feces.

The study found between 21 and 48 percent of Nene tested positive for past infection, depending on the island. The island of Moloka‘i had the highest infection rate (48 percent), followed by 23 percent on Maui and 21 percent on Kaua‘i. According to the authors, the higher rate on Moloka‘i may have been due to “a conspicuously consistent presence of feral cats.”

“This research confirms earlier studies dating from the 1970s that this parasite is probably found in tropical island ecosystems wherever there are feral cats,” said Dr. Thierry Work, the study’s lead author. “Recent studies also suggest that animals and humans are more prone to trauma when infected with T. gondii. Trauma is the chief cause of death for Nene, and infections with T. gondii may be making them more vulnerable, but confirming that will require additional studies.”

Hawaiian Geese are not the only Hawaiian wildlife to test positive for T. gondii. Other birds, such as the endangered Hawaiian Crow (‘Alala), and mammals, such as endangered Hawaiian monk seals, are also susceptible and have died from infection. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in response to increasing seal deaths, elevated toxoplasmosis to a disease of “serious concern.” According to the Main Hawaiian Islands Monk Seal Management Plan, NOAA is concerned both with seal deaths and “the secondary and cumulative impacts of subclinical or chronic disease.”

Visitors to and residents of Hawai’i are also at risk from toxoplasmosis. Ingestion or inhalation of cat-transmitted oocysts may result in miscarriages, fetal abnormalities, blindness, memory loss, or death. A 2011 study found that nearly 80 percent of sampled mothers of congenitally infected infants (those infected by T. gondii in the womb) contracted their infections as a result of environmental contamination from cat feces.

A 2013 study by scientists from the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Johns Hopkins University also called attention to cats as the means of transmission to people. “Because cats are now so ubiquitous in the environment, one may become infected [with T. gondii] by neighboring cats which defecate in one’s garden or play area, or by playing in public areas such as parks or school grounds,” the study said.  “Indeed, as cats increasingly contaminate public areas with T. gondii oocysts, it will become progressively more difficult to avoid exposure.”

As well as spreading disease, cats are also a non-native predator that directly kill native wildlife in Hawai‘i and on islands around the world. In Hawai‘i, already known as the bird extinction capital of the world, feral cats kill endangered Hawaiian Petrels (‘Ua‘u), Newell’s Shearwaters (‘A‘o), and Palila, among others. A 2011 study recorded feral cat impacts on at least 120 different islands worldwide and determined that feral cats are responsible for at least 14 percent of global bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions.

“While we appreciate cats as pets and acknowledge the important role pet cats play in many people’s lives, it is clear that the continued presence of feral cats in our parks and neighborhoods is having detrimental impacts on people and wildlife,” said Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs at American Bird Conservancy. “Before another species goes extinct or another person is affected by toxoplasmosis, we need to acknowledge the severity of the problem and take decisive actions to resolve it. What is required is responsible pet ownership and the effective removal of free-roaming feral cats from the landscape.”

Hawaii State Land Board Reaffirms Judge Riki May Amano as TMT Contested Case Hearing Officer

The Board of Land and Natural Resources (the “Board”) today issued Minute Order No. 9 (the “Order”) in the Contested Case Hearing for the Conservation District Use Application (“CDUA”) for the Thirty Meter Telescope (“TMT”) at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. In the Order the Board unanimously denied a motion to disqualify retired Hilo judge Riki May Amano as the hearing officer in the case.

TMT laser

The Order provides the Board’s detailed reasons for denying the motion. It also restates some of the Board’s findings in denying a previous disqualification motion.

The Board also unanimously declined to grant objections to Board member Chris Yuen’s service on the selection committee that picked Judge Amano.

The Board’s Order addresses the public scrutiny facing this contested case hearing and notes that both the Petitioners and the University of Hawaii are concerned that Judge Amano’s selection may not survive review in an appellate court. As it reasoned, however,

 “[t]he Board is concerned that, taken to its logical extreme, ensuring a contested case process that subjectively ‘appears to be fair’ to every possible person who takes an interest in the TMT project would likely necessitate not only the disqualification of Judge Amano but of every potential hearing officer who otherwise possessed the acumen to hear this case.”

It goes on to provide that

“[n]o qualified hearing officer candidate is likely to satisfy all spectators and remove all fears of reversal. The Board will not go down this rabbit hole.”

Instead, the Board adopts the objective standard cited in a previous Supreme Court decision (Mauna Kea Anaina Hou v. Board of Land and Natural Resources, 136 Hawai‘i 376, 395, 363 P.3d 224, 243 (2015)). It found,

“the commitment to an objective ‘appearance of fairness’ test is consistent throughout Hawai‘i judicial decisions.”

Further, the Order provides that,

“[w]ith due respect and consideration to the parties’ various interests and reasons for asking the Board to replace Judge Amano, the Board cannot and will not sidestep its own administrative responsibility to exercise judgment and common sense regarding whether the selection process up until now has objectively appeared to be fair. Common sense must prevail.”

As for the Petitioners’ claim that board member Yuen should recuse himself in this matter and should not have served as a member of the selection committee for the hearing officer, the Board found that a statement made nearly two decades before the TMT CDUA was filed is not evidence of bias or prejudgment.

Quoting Yuen’s written response to the Petitioners’ objections,

“I think that the policy for board members is similar to that for judges: there is a duty to serve when you are not legally disqualified, just as there is a duty to disqualify yourself when good cause exists . . . Board members should not be selected for the absence of opinions: they have to know how to review facts and decide particular cases on their merits given the legal criteria.”

Minute Order No. 9, along with all other orders released by the Board, are available on the DLNR website at the location noted below.

Minute Order No. 9


Big Island Police Renewing Request for Information About Fatal Puna Vehicle-Pedestrian Crash

Hawaiʻi Island police are renewing their request for information about a fatal vehicle-pedestrian crash on March 28 on Route 130 near the Kaloli Drive intersection in Puna.

Skye Kahealeilani Noah, 19, of Pāhoa was walking in the Pāhoa direction on the mauka shoulder of the road when she was struck by a white 2003 Ford Ranger pickup truck traveling in the same direction sometime in the early hours of March 28.
Skye Noah
Police continue to seek motorists who may have witnessed the collision or may have seen the white Ford pickup truck on Route 130 during the evening hours of March 27 or early morning hours of March 28. Anyone with any information about this case is asked to call the Police Department’s non-emergency line at 935-3311 or contact Detective Todd Pataray at 961-2382 or

Tipsters who prefer to remain anonymous may call the islandwide Crime Stoppers number at 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Crime Stoppers is a volunteer program run by ordinary citizens who want to keep their community safe. Crime Stoppers doesn’t record calls or subscribe to caller ID. Crime Stoppers information is kept confidential.

Hawaiʻi CC-Pālamanui Offering Guided Tours

Hawaiʻi Community College—Pālamanui will host a series of guided tours on Wednesdays in June.

Hawaʻi CC–Pālamanui buildings

Hawaʻi CC–Pālamanui buildings

The tours will give prospective students and other community members the opportunity to see the new, sustainably designed facilities in North Kona and to learn more about the academic programs and how to apply.

“We are excited to be approaching our second academic year at our new state-of-the-art campus,” said Pālamanui Director Marty Fletcher. “Our facilities and programs are a valuable resource for West Hawaiʻi, and we want to ensure residents have an opportunity to get to know the campus.”

Pālamanui Tour Schedule:

  • June 8, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
  • June 15, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
  • June 22, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
  • June 29, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

To RSVP for a tour, please contact Pearla Haalilio at (808) 969-8824 or by email

Honor the Dads in Your Life at the 18th Annual Celebrate Father’s Day Event

The Hawai‘i Coalition for Dads and the State Commission on Fatherhood will celebrate the important role fathers play in their children’s everyday lives on Saturday, June 18 at Windward Mall.  The two organizations invite all Hawai‘i fathers and their families to join them at the 18th Annual Celebrate Father’s Day event.

fathers day 2016

Families who attend this free event will enjoy a Father-Child Look-Alike Contest, live entertainment featuring “Cousin Flippa” from Hawaii Five-0, and family-friendly activities. Contestants in the Father-Child Look-Alike Contest – a highlight every year – will vie for prizes like a Nintendo WiiU, Weber tabletop Grill, and gift cards from Local Motion, Sports Authority and local movie theaters.

An increasing body of evidence indicates that children are more likely to thrive with the support, guidance, and nurturing of both parents. Yet, many children across the country are growing up without fathers.  As a result, they may lack appropriate male role models and face greater risks of health, emotional, educational, and behavioral problems during their developmental years. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that children and families function much better with an active, involved, and responsible father in their lives.

Father-Child Look-a-Like Contest entry forms and rules are available at the Fatherhood Commission’s website. Get more information about the Hawai‘i Coalition for Dads and the State Commission on Fatherhood at the Commission’s website.

UH Hilo Announces College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management Spring 2016 Dean’s List

The following students in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo received Dean’s List recognition for the spring 2016 semester:

UH Hilo Moniker

Bishop Akao, Calvin Arca, Shaye Lynn Baldos, Joshua Boranian, Whitney Boteilho, Talisa Caldwell, Pomaika`i Cathcart, Damon Ewen, Kyle Frazier, Adrian Frazier, Alyssa Fujii, Megan Fujitake, Kawaikapuokalani Genovia, Christian Grostick, Kelly Hodson, Kayuri Kadoya,

Laura Kelly, Jiang Li, Kawehi Lopez, Tyrus Moises, Risa Kabua Myazoe, Brandon Naihe, Michael Pamatat, Wesley Piena, Kodie Solis-Kalani, Kuupomaikai Stevens, Alexis Stubbs, Mark Tanouye, William Trammell, Justin Wada, Taite Winthers-Barcelona, and Timothy Zimmerman.

Views of Puʻu ʻŌʻō and Its Recent Breakouts

View of breakout on northeast flank of Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The light-colored flows in the foreground are active pāhoehoe flows.  (CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE)

The view is to the southeast. Puʻu ʻŌʻō is at upper right.

The view is to the southeast. Puʻu ʻŌʻō is at upper right.

View of recent breakout on east flank of Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The flow has advanced about 1.3 km (0.8 miles), but activity today was focused in the middle part of the flow, closer to its vent.

The view is to the west.

The view is to the west.

This photo, looking southwest, shows Puʻu ʻŌʻō in the background, with the northern breakout from May 24 extending to the right, with fume coming from a newly forming tube. The feature in the center foreground is a perched lava pond that formed in July 2014, but was refilled by new lava from the northern breakout in recent days.

The breakout point of the eastern breakout is hard to pick out, if you don't know what to look for. It's the lighter colored lava at the left edge of the photo immediately below center.

The breakout point of the eastern breakout is hard to pick out, if you don’t know what to look for. It’s the lighter colored lava at the left edge of the photo immediately below center.

Puʻu ʻŌʻō’s current crater subsided by about 10 m (33 ft) in the days following the May 24 breakouts. This view, looking southeast, shows the crater as it was today.

HVO webcams are perched on the edge of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone (an older crater rim) in the foreground.

HVO webcams are perched on the edge of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone (an older crater rim) in the foreground.

Hornito over middle of the three NE flank vents

Hornito over middle of the three NE flank vents

A close-up view of the spatter cone.

A close-up view of the spatter cone.

The ground around the spatter cone was covered in small gobs of spatter and Pele's hair, as shown here.

The ground around the spatter cone was covered in small gobs of spatter and Pele’s hair, as shown here.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

A closer view of the skylight on the east breakout. The skylight is about 6 m (20 ft) across, and the lava stream is traveling toward the upper right side of the photo.

A closer view of the skylight on the east breakout. The skylight is about 6 m (20 ft) across, and the lava stream is traveling toward the upper right side of the photo.

An even closer view of the skylight (about 6 m or 20 ft across).

Again, the lava stream is flowing to the upper right.

Again, the lava stream is flowing to the upper right.

Board of Land and Natural Resources to Consider Ala Wai Canal

A proposal to close the Ala Wai Canal from the Ala Moana Boulevard Bridge to the Kalakaua Avenue Bridge during the IUCN World Conservation Congress, Sept. 1-10, 2016, will be considered at a meeting of the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) on June 9, 2016.

ala wai canal in front of convention center

Numerous law enforcement agencies, led by the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) have requested the closure as an imperative safety measure to ensure the safety of the public and an expected 8,000-10,000 attendees of the conference.

DOCARE Enforcement Chief Thomas Friel explained, “This event will generate worldwide media attention and numerous Heads of State, Ministerial and Cabinet Level officials and other dignitaries are expected to attend.”

According to the submittal, the closure is necessary for the following reasons:

  • To maintain an area that provides for standoff distance where any safety and security threat in the vicinity of the canal near the Hawaii Convention Center can be detected and dealt with away from the Convention Center.
  • To maintain surveillance and control of the Ala Moana and Kalakaua Avenue bridges, the bridges closest to the Hawaii Convention Center.  The bridges provide crucial transportation routes that the public and attendees will use to access the convention center and area hotels.

DOCARE, working with State Harbor Police, will be responsible for the physical closure of the canal and will use vessels and floating booms to accomplish the task.  DOCARE Officers will monitor the area during the proposed closure.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “While we appreciate this will be a temporary inconvenience for canal users like canoe clubs, we hope everyone understands it is important to do everything possible to make sure, when the world’s conservation leaders are focusing on Hawaii, they do so under the umbrella of the utmost safety and security.”

BLNR meetings are typically on Friday’s, but the June 9th meeting is on a Thursday, since June 10th is King Kamehameha Day.  Public testimony will be heard during the board’s consideration of the Ala Wai closure proposal.