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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 13, 2002

Maui's Boy Scouts mark 40-year link to nene

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Hawai'i's state bird, the nene, is a proud and enduring symbol of Haleakala National Park, a fixture there as common as a cinder cone or silversword.

Boy Scouts unloaded crates of nene that were shipped from England to be reintroduced to Maui in Haleakala Crater. The harsh crater environment challenged the bird's survival.

Advertiser library photo • 1962

But you might not know that it was only four decades ago that the honk of the Hawaiian goose could not be heard at Maui's mountain-top park or anywhere else on Maui. That's because it was extinct on the Valley Isle.

Enter the Boy Scouts to save the day.

In July of 1962, a group of Boy Scouts hauled 35 nene into Haleakala Crater to conclude a mission that saw the birds journey thousands of miles to inhabit a strangely familiar land.

That event — along with the other volunteers, biologists and technicians who helped re-establish the nene on Maui 40 years ago — will be remembered tonight in a special tribute sponsored by the Friends of Haleakala National Park.

The friends have invited the Boy Scouts and others to the 7 p.m. program at Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani. The evening will feature vintage film footage of the 1962 nene, a discussion about the history and ongoing status of the bird, and an open microphone for anyone who wants to reminisce about the old days.

Former Boy Scout Colin Kailiponi doesn't remember much about the historic trek into the crater.

"We didn't know how important it was,'' said Kailiponi, an 18-year old Eagle Scout at the time and now scoutmaster of the same group, Troop 56. "It has more meaning today. Back then, we were young and just out having an adventure.''

Fossil records show that the Hawaiian goose lived on all the main Hawaiian islands, but declined largely because of predation by rats, cats, dogs, mongooses and pigs. Scientists believe that nene on Maui became extinct before 1890.

By 1951, Hawai'i's surviving nene were estimated to be down to only 30 birds, all on the Big Island. A pair of nene were offered for breeding to the Wildfowl Trust in Severn, England.

According to a report from then-state Wildlife Program Manager Ron Walker, 30 of the geese carried into the crater by the Boy Scouts were reared in England, having been air-freighted to New York, endured a 21-day quarantine in New Jersey, flown to O'ahu for a three-day stop at the Honolulu Zoo, then on to Maui, where they were trucked up the mountain. The English birds were joined by five birds from the state's Pohakuloa propagation project on the Big Island.

At the time, scientists thought the remote and managed confines of Haleakala would be an ideal sanctuary for the nene. As it turns out, the harsh climate and lack of nutritional opportunities limited population growth.

Today, there are an estimated 200 nene atop Haleakala, a number that has remained static for at least 10 years despite new bird releases. Nevertheless, the park remains home to one of the state's largest numbers of the federally listed endangered species.

Haleakala scientist Joy Tamayose, who is studying ways to increase gosling survival rates on the mountain, said she salutes those who helped re-establish the nene there — even if it wasn't the most ideal place for them.

"It was a huge effort, and we continue to learning a lot,'' she said.

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880, or thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.