Updated: December 5, 2023
At the direction of Governor Josh Green M.D., DLNR Chair Dawn Chang met Tuesday with the principals of ABayKitties, the organization that has provided cat food at a trio of feeding stations at the Queens’ Marketplace shopping center.
Last week, property owner Alexander & Baldwin removed the feeders after learning that as many as a dozen Hawaiian nēnē geese, were also eating cat food.
DLNR reports that in Chair Chang’s meeting with ABayKitties, she reiterated that the department is required by law to protect nēnē, an endangered species under state law, and a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Chang explained when nēnē eat cat food, it can make them sick and can even kill them, according to a department news release. Toxoplasmosis, a disease carried by cats, can also kill birds and critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Feral cats are among the most prolific predators of numerous near-extinct native forest birds, according to the department.
Chang told ABayKitties that she “appreciates their passion” but pointed out that “Native Hawaiians, numerous conservation organizations, and many local residents strongly support the protection of nēnē and other native animals, birds, and mammals.”
Department officials say feeding wildlife like nēnē can ‘habituate’ them to being around people which leads to more frequent car strikes.
While there have been no recent statewide surveys of the feral cat population, estimates put the number into the hundreds of thousands, according to state officials. On Hawai‘i Island, a 2021 survey of the nēnē population puts the number of birds at 1,074. Statewide, the same survey indicated a population of 3,881.
Chang shared that DLNR will be ramping up education efforts so communities can be a part of protecting native species and figure out long-term solutions to give cats “appropriate, safe, and loving indoor homes.”
On April 11, during a protest by feral cat advocates, two women were cited for the illegal take of an endangered or threatened species. Those citations will require court appearances next month.
The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) is preparing informational flyers to distribute to property owners and individuals to educate people about how to avoid harming nēnē. The department has been in regular contact with area legislators who want to find a permanent solution and is also arranging meetings with Hawai‘i County and with humane societies, to work collaboratively.
“This is not just a Waikoloa issue. This is not just a Hawai‘i Island issue. This is not an issue of lovers of feral cats versus lovers of native wildlife, so this is a problem without easy or readily identifiable solutions,” said Chair Chang. “Our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s unique and precious wildlife. We take that seriously and to heart. While we have compassion for all living creatures, our singular mission is to protect our native threatened and endangered species from all threats.”