Projects and Research

Taro (kalo) Farming

Taro farming is permitted on Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge because the current land use practice provides habitat for threatened and endangered Hawaiian waterbirds such as the koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck), the ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawaiian coot), the ‘alae‘ula (Hawaiian moorhen), the ae‘o (Hawaiian stilt), and the nēnē (Hawaiian goose). Forty-five other species of birds (18 of which are introduced species) also utilize Refuge habitat at some point throughout the year. Occasionally wildlife management and bird usage conflicts with optimal taro water management and production (e.g. maintaining wet fallow fields, waterbirds feeding on taro, etc.) therefore permit fees are set at a reduced rate to compensate farmers for losses incurred as a result of the requirement to favor endangered waterbirds in bird-taro conflicts. In addition, some farming practices may be modified or restricted to enhance waterbird production. Hanalei NWR is closed to the public to protect endangered waterbirds and minimize disturbances to their life cycles.

Avian Botulism Detector Dogs

Meet Solo, a Conservation Dog of Hawaii, and her trainer, Kyoko. This yellow lab is being trained to sniff out duck carcasses infected by Avian botulism type C at Hanalei NWR. The goal is to find carcasses quickly to prevent a botulism outbreak. Currently, the Refuge relies on human volunteers to help us find sick or deceased birds. We are striving towards using both humans and dogs in the future to help find as many carcasses as possible.

Training with Conservation Dogs of Hawaii continued in February 2021. It’s believed that with further training these dogs could one day help infected, live birds. Which, if caught in time, biologists can administer an antitoxin to save its life.

Avian botulism type C is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, which produces a powerful neurotoxin. It occurs year-round in Hawaii due to the warm, wet, and stagnant conditions that allow it to persist. Since 2011, more than 1,300 waterbirds have been killed or sickened by the disease at Hanalei NWR, with over 90% of the mortalities occurring among five federally endangered species. The koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck, Anas wyvilliana) is most susceptible to botulism, because it’s a dabbler.

A big mahalo to our partners, Conservation Dogs Hawaii!

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