Maui News

Kaua‘i Artist Paints Brighter Future for Native Birds

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Island multimedia artist Trysen Kaneshige spent the last two months painting larger-than-life murals of Hawai’i’s native waterbirds and seabirds. The project, which was supported by the County of Kaua‘i’s ‘Rise to Work’ program, uses street art to introduce Kaua‘i residents to endangered birds, and to the idea that both cats and birds are protected when cats are kept indoors.

Trysen Kaneshige with the street art he created for the project. Credit – J Gregg.

Waterbirds like the ‘alae ‘ula (Hawaiian common gallinule) and koloa maoli (Koloa duck), as well as seabirds like mōlī (Laysan albatross) and ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel), are an important and charismatic part of Hawaiian culture. Some of these birds are threatened with extinction across the state, but on Kaua‘i, they can often be seen at golf courses, parks and wetland areas.

These birds evolved without any mammalian predators, so they do not fly away when confronted by an introduced predator, like a cat. The risk to Kauaʻi’s waterbirds and seabirds is magnified by the number of feral cats roaming the landscape and the fact that these vulnerable birds nest on the ground.  

Trysen works on the ‘cat safe, wildlife safe Kaua’i’ slogan. Credit – Kaneshige.

Helen Raine, Executive Director of Archipelago Research and Conservation LLC, worked with Kaneshige on behalf of the Kaua‘i Wildlife Coalition. She said, “Trysen’s innovative art captures the beauty of these Hawaiian birds, but also highlights their vulnerability to cats. The wildlife on Kaua‘i is unique – we’re the Noah’s Ark for some of these birds, often the last place in the state where they are still thriving.”

According to ARC, outdoor cat colonies are problematic as well. “These colonies maintain cats in poor living conditions where they are at risk from car accidents, dog attacks and disease,” according to ARC.

Grant Sizemore of American Bird Conservancy, a Kauaʻi Wildlife Coalition member, said, ““It’s safer for both the cats and the birds when all cats are kept indoors, on a leash, or in a catio (fenced space). Cats can also spread a disease called toxoplasmosis to humans; it is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. In Hawaiian monk seals and dolphins, it is often fatal.” Research published in 2020 indicated a surprisingly high prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, throughout Kauaʻi, organization leaders noted. 


The Kauaʻi Wildlife Coalition includes the: American Bird Conservancy, Kaua’i Albatross Network, Wildlife Friendly Business, Hanalei Watershed Hui, Hallux Ecosystem Restoration, Archipelago Research and Conservation 

Kaneshige’s work is portable and will be exhibited in various locations around the island as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

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