Hope for endangered seabirds

HANAMAULU — During the four-day annual meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group last week at the Aqua Kauai Beach Hotel near Lihue, 10 researchers detailed the results of programs aimed at reducing the deaths of endangered and threatened native Hawaiian seabirds.

They also explained how introduced predators, like cats and rats, continue to decimate seabird populations around the globe.

On Kauai, feral cats are the biggest killers of seabirds.

Kyle Pias leads a team of introduced-predator-control specialists working in the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve, which is a prime nesting area for all three species of Kauai’s endangered seabirds. They utilize a variety of methods to remove feral cats and other introduced predators, and their efforts are paying off.

During his scientific presentation to attendees at the 46th Pacific Seabird Group meeting, Pias stated, “Over the past three years we’ve successfully trapped and removed more cats, which has resulted in dramatically lower numbers of seabird deaths.”

In 2016 the predator-control team recorded 31 cat-killed seabirds in their study area alone. In 2017 the number dropped to 11. Last year there were just five confirmed deaths in the same area. “Obviously,” Pias added, “We want to move the needle towards 100 percent cat-free in these sensitive nesting areas with zero deaths.”

Gov. David Ige was recognized by Jay Penniman of the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project for signing into law regulations making it illegal to feed feral cats at state small boat harbors. He says it’s a step in the right direction, but called out feral-cat activists who often tout a method of control called trap-neuter-release (TNR).

From cats to rats

Two speakers, including Dr. Andre Raine, detailed efforts to rid tiny Lehua islet, west of Kauai near Niihau, of invasive Polynesian rats that have been responsible for the deaths of numerous birds annually in the state seabird sanctuary.

A collaborative effort, starting in 2017, involved the aerial application of a rat bait aimed at totally eradicating them from the island. It has been largely successful, though efforts continue to rid Lehua of the very small number of remaining rats that have been detected by game cameras.

“You can’t look at an ecosystem through a very narrow perspective,” said Mark Rauzon, a professor at California’s Laney College and vice chair for conservation for the seabird group.

“Yes, we love cats, but cats don’t belong in the wild. Cats belong in a loving household where they’re not outside doing what cats do. Cats have a propensity to hunt. Even if they don’t need to hunt they want to hunt,” said Rauzon.

He believes island ecosystem restoration is reaching a crescendo. Ever-improving restoration techniques have led to vast acres of predator-invaded lands being protected and the saving of millions and millions of seabirds over the past four decades.

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