Cat feces suspected in death of a nēnē gosling found in Hilo park

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A nēnē gosling found dead in Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens last month was likely a victim of toxoplasmosis, an infection spread only in the feces of feral cats.

Nēnē gosling, identified as 595, found dead in Hilo park. Photo courtesy: DLNR

The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife sent the diseased bird to the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center for a necropsy.

“This tragic incident highlights the problem of having feral cat colonies in areas that are known habitat for endangered or threatened species,” said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang. “Toxoplasmosis, or ʻtoxo’ for short, according to the USGS, continues to be the chief cause of death for infectious diseases for nēnē and critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

“We must keep cats out of native wildlife habitats or we’re likely to see more deaths among Hawai‘i’s State Bird population.”

Raymond McGuire, the DOFAW biologist who collected the gosling and sent it to the lab to determine cause of death, has studied and worked with nēnē for decades. He said nēnē 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 another Hilo park in March 2023.

McGuire went on to say that they know cat lovers are also animal lovers. He encouraged those who feed the feral felines 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 Hawai‘i, nēnē and monk seals. Open your hearts to them above non-native species like cats,” McGuire said.

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


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

In April 2023, dozens of people gathered in the marketplace parking lot to protest DLNR’s mandate of no longer feeding the colony at the request of the shopping center’s owners. Nēnē were eating cat food right alongside a large population of wandering cats.

A month later, two animal rescue organizations captured 64 feral cats and kittens from the area and had them spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

In light of the recent nēnē gosling death, Lerma said they hope to circumvent 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,” Lerma said. “Additionally, we advocate to make it illegal to feed feral cats on Hawaiʻi County property to prevent the misconception that abandoned cats will be cared for.”

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

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

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