Triad family uses herding dogs to solve Nene bird problem in Hawaii

Data pix.

Your parents probably told you that there’s no substitute for the best -- and the United States government found that out when they ran into a problem.

When wildlife and people begin to encroach on each other’s territory in a way that needs to be dealt with, the US Department of Agriculture gets involved. That’s exactly what happened when there was a problem with the Nene bird in Hawai’i.

That problem began more than half a century ago. That’s when the Nene nearly went extinct – it’s the state bird of Hawai’i and was put on the endangered species list when it appeared there were only about 30 of them left in 1951. The government did a good job of bringing the population back. At last count, there were more than 2,500 – so many, in fact, that they were beginning to clash with people and their tools around the islands.

That’s when the USDA called the Kuykendalls.

For four generations now, the Kuykendalls have been the gold standard of using dogs to control bird populations in a humane way. Their company is called Goose Masters and the Nene is a form of goose, but they had no natural predators on the island of Kauai, so the Kuykendalls weren’t sure their methods would work.

So, over two-and-a-half years, they developed and executed a plan to move the Nene off the two resorts on Kauai and, more importantly, out of the way of the airport runway that’s between them.

“It's such a complicated project because we have to get dogs ready to interact on a high-end resort,” said Gwen Kuykandall, who runs the company along with her husband, Kent, and their son, Kody.

It was Kent’s grandfather who began successfully training dogs for this work decades ago.

“Through the years, I think I only remember three dogs out of the hundreds of dogs we've bred, who couldn't be trained for some industry like goose dogs, cow dogs, sheep dogs,” said Kent, citing the fact that the border collies his family works with are the most intelligent breed. “There have been studies done and that's a fact.”

What the Kuykendalls do is utilize the dogs’ natural instincts to herd animals. The commands are simple.

“Come by is clockwise, way to me is counterclockwise,” says Kent. "Lay down" is if you want them to be still. “With these three commands, you can literally move stock wherever you want.”

The dogs aim to please and, “as handlers, we have to look after them because they'll literally work themselves into exhaustion,” notes Kent.

And after those two-and-a-half years, they recently declared success as the Kuykendall's work was able to move the Nene out of the path of the planes to an area where they can continue to thrive.

“We were there two or three weeks and there was a 90 percent reduction in Nene sightings by the end of the three weeks,” Gwen said.

See the Kuykenalls working with the dogs and the dogs at work in Hawai’i in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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