Hawaii’s Hungry and Pesky Mongooses

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What is it where you live? Pigeons that deface statuary, buildings and the occasional human head? Squirrels? Locusts? Mice or rats?

Here in Hawaii, the pest of choice has been the mongoose. And we brought the pestilence on ourselves.

The 1800s were big for sugar cane. Sugar plantations shot up on a lot of tropical islands, notably the Hawaiian islands and Jamaica. The sugar cane attracted rats, and the rats caused serious crop destruction and loss. In 1872, the Small Asian Mongoose was imported from Calcutta to Jamaica. A published paper that praised the results intrigued Hawaiian plantation owners. In 1883, the owners brought 72 mongooses from Jamaica to the Hamakua Coast (Northeast) of the Big Island. These were carefully raised and their offspring were shipped to plantations on other islands. Didn’t take long for the mongooses to take over. Mongooses males become sexually mature at four months and females produce litters of 2-5 pups a year. Only the islands of Kauai and Lanai have been spared the proliferation – so far.

The experiment didn’t exactly work. Mongooses consider rats an okay thing to eat – the way you might think walnuts or rutabagas are okay to eat. But mongooses also like lizards, crabs, toads, frogs, birds and bird eggs, fish, spiders, and the grubs of all kinds of beetles and caterpillars … and just about anything else they can get their savage little mouths around. insects, spiders, snails and fruits. They’ve also been known to catch mammals many times their size, and even the young of deer. They also eat snakes, but snakes aren’t a problem in Hawaii. (Some people erroneously believe we have no snakes because the mongooses wiped them out. Not so. We’ve never had snakes.) Mongooses aren’t cause for concern to you. The only time you’re likely see one is if it darts across the road in front of the car you’re in.

Most of the animal-pest-eradication attention in Hawaii today has been distracted by the coqui frog. That tiny creature has taken over as “pest of interest” because of its ability to quickly adapt to Hawaii from its native Puerto Rico and reach scary numbers. It has no predators (unless you count the mongoose) and its mating noise is literally unbearable. But that’s another story.