Death of nene gosling likely caused by disease carried by feral cats

Photo via DLNR from Nene Research and Conservation The nene gosling that died last month in Lili'uokalani Park and Gardens rests in a photo taken in February.

The nene gosling that died last month in Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens in Hilo likely was killed by toxoplasmosis, an infection spread only in the feces of feral cats, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

To determine the cause of death, the DLNR’s’Division of Forestry and Wildlife sent the diseased bird to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center for a necropsy (animal autopsy).


“This tragic incident highlights the problem of having feral cat colonies in areas that are known habitat for endangered or threatened species,” DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said in a statement. “Toxoplasmosis, or ʻtoxo’ for short, according to the USGS, continues to be the chief cause of death for infectious diseases for nene and critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals. We must keep cats out of native wildlife habitats or we’re likely to see more deaths among Hawaii’s state bird population.”

Raymond McGuire, the DOFAW biologist who collected the gosling and sent it to the lab, has studied and worked with nene for decades. He said nene have particularly strong familial bonds and there’s one thing about this gosling’s death that is especially sad.

The gosling’s mother, tagged as NTC, was the same bird that had another chick taken from her by a woman at a Keaukaha park in March 2023.

“We know cat lovers are animal lovers,” McGuire said in a statement. We’re encouraging people who are feeding cats, sometimes in very large colonies, to consider the deadly consequences. We know, as animal lovers their hearts are in the right place, but in addition to caring for wild cat populations please consider the tragic impacts imposed on two of the most iconic wildlife species in Hawaii, nene and monk seals. Open your hearts to them above nonnative species like cats.”

Jordan Lerma, with the nonprofit nene Research & Conservation, said it is well-known that a feral cat colony exists at Liliʻuokalani Park and “addressing this issue proves to be highly polarizing.”

“In Hawaii, attempts to manage feral cats often face strong animosity, making progress seem daunting,” he said in a statement. “Our experiences with cat colony managers during the events at Queen’s Marketplace underscore these challenges.

“We hope to circumvent much of that backlash and focus on solutions that can benefit both conservation efforts and feral cats. We support legislation aimed at reducing pet abandonment, which includes requiring spaying/neutering for cats older than three months and mandatory microchipping. Additionally, we advocate to make it illegal to feed feral cats on Hawaii County property to prevent the misconception that abandoned cats will be cared for.”

At Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa last year, officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement ordered feral cat feeding to stop because nene were eating cat food right alongside a large population of cats.

The nonprofit Friends of Liliʻuokalani Gardens has put up signs cautioning visitors that it is illegal to touch, harass, feed, or harm a nene.

“By feeding feral cats, people are clearly harming and killing nene, perhaps inadvertently, but the outcome is the same,” Chang said.

See Wednesday’s Tribune-Herald for more.

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