Making the Nēnē Matter: Valuing Life in Postwar Conservation

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In 1950 a group of scientists and public figures, based in Hawai'i and
England, launched a transnational “restoration project” to save the nēnē or Hawaiian Goose from extinction. Scrutinizing this project highlights how endangered species were valued as part of a historically contingent process that reflected and linked the interests of different groups. People did not undertake the restoration project simply because they realized the nēnē was endangered, but instead sought to rescue it at the “eleventh hour” in order to legitimize the new conservation organizations they helped establish after the Second World War. They also engaged with broader political and socioeconomic concerns to justify the restoration project, publicly framing the nēnē as a valuable asset that benefited Hawaii's tourist economy and push for statehood. Disputes over the reintroduction of geese bred in England highlight how the nēnē was
valued in complex and sometimes contradictory ways, with unforeseen consequences for both the restoration project and its animal subjects. This case study ultimately draws our attention to the inherently biopolitical nature of modern conservation, by showing that there is no simple trajectory from endangered life to valued life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-514
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020


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