Guide to Hawaii’s Wildlife

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No trip to Hawaii – regardless of the island – is without a few encounters with local wildlife. Some of the animals run rampant, some are protected, some are even endangered. They’re nearly all charming. Here are some of the animals I saw in a week on Kauai. I didn’t have to go out of my way for any of them.

Cats

Cats! They are everywhere! In fact, they’ve made the invasive species list. While a population of feral cats can help keep rodent populations in check, many of Kauai’s cats thrive off the kindness of [human] strangers. We had to be careful that the cat sleeping under our car would move out of the way before we headed out anywhere. There is absolutely no stranger danger with these fearless felines.

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Cattle Egret

I have an enduring affection for all of the heron family. I was surprised to see an egret on Kauai, but once I saw one I soon saw them frequently. With a little research I learned that they are relatively new members of the Hawaiian ecosystem, having only arrived in 1959. They were introduced in the hopes that they would control agricultural pests. Unfortunately they are nest predators to Hawaiian Stilts and Hawaiian Coons.

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Moa – Red Jungle Fowl

Hei Hei, from the Disney movie Moana, popularized the roosters that run rampant over the islands. They arrived with the first Hawaiians, but what you see these days are not the domesticated creatures that came across the oceans. Rather these are their feral descendants. Particularly on Kauai, and after Hurricane Iniki ravaged the island (and thus set free so many domesticated creatures) they rule the roost. You don’t have to go far to see a rooster, or a hen with her chicks, wherever you are on Kauai.

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Heather joke:
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Heihei no like go school.

Sand Crabs

Naturally, if you spend any time on the beach you’ll notice that humans aren’t the only creatures who enjoy that strip of heaven where the sand meets the sea. We saw sand crabs first thing in the morning. These nocturnal creatures retreat when the sun gets hot and the humans plentiful. They’re quick and difficult to photograph (while also keeping an eye on your own children) so I can’t be certain of their species, but we believe the first one is a’ama and the second is a ghost crab.

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Lizards

No lizard can claim native Hawaiian heritage, but try telling them that! Lizards love this tropical paradise and while they are an introduced species they are definitely in it for the long haul. When I lived on Oahu we considered it good luck to have a lizard in our house. (Our favourite was a gecko whom we called Billy.) The lizards help control the bug population so that was definitely a plus for me. I was shocked at how many of my Hawaiian friends were totally creeped out by lizards. Both of the lizards below are green anole. I especially love how well the green anole blends into the foliage.

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Nene – Hawaiian Goose

Those of you who watch Pixar Shorts may already know that the nene is Hawaii’s state bird. The world’s rarest goose, nene exist in the wild exclusively on the Hawaiian islands. They are a vulnerable population, which means that while they are endangered, their numbers are increasing. Few nene live on Oahu, but they do live on the islands of Kauai, Maui, and Hawai’i.

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Honu – Sea Turtle

Honu represents good luck, endurance, and long life. Sadly, they experience shorter lives and poor fortunes because of human interference. Sea turtles have been registered as endangered species since 1982. Most Hawaiians treat sea turtles with the respect they deserve. Often before a tourist comes across a sea turtle resting on the shores someone has already marked a line in the sand to provide the turtle some personal space.

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llio holo I ka uaua – Monk Seal

llio holo I ka uaua translates from ancient Hawaiian to dog that runs in rough water. The State of Hawaii adopted monk seals as their State Mammal in an effort to increase awareness of this critically endangered species. The population of Hawaiian monk seals hovers around 1400 and is dropping.

I don’t know whose footprints those are in the picture below, but I can assure you no one in my family crossed the line for a closer look. I am an optimist, so I am choosing to believe that it was someone from Wildlife checking the vitals of this resting soul.

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Of course these beautiful islands house so many other fantastic species on land and in the sea. We must all remember that aloha also means respect. We respect each other, we respect the land, and we respect all creatures with whom we share this world. They’ve got another phrase which encompasses this as well: be pono. We do not have a direct translation for be pono, but we sum it up as a goodness in our lives. I saw “Be Pono” signs all over the schools; we would all do well to consider that advice in our own lives.

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