Here is a great candidate for exhibit A in ‘good intentions gone wrong in Hawaii.’ Back in the late 1800’s, rising rat numbers on the Big Island were causing concern, especially among sugar plantation owners. I mean, nobody wants rats around. They bite. They carry disease. They breed like crazy. They kill native birds and eat their eggs. They’re just generally nasty and a menace.
So the plantation owners brought in the small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) to control the rat population. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, mongooses are diurnal, operating mostly during the day. Rats are nocturnal, active at night. So apart from the twilight hours, never the twain shall meet. In consequence, mongooses had next to no effect on the rat population. The plan was dead on arrival. Still, no harm done, right?
Not exactly. Since the mongooses weren’t subsisting on a diet of fat, juicy rats, they needed something else to eat. And one of the many things on their menu was native bird eggs. The net result was that, instead of eliminating rats, the mongoose extended the problems they caused to 24 hours a day. The effect on native birds in particular, was especially damaging. Kaua’i has a far greater abundance of birds than the Big Island, in large part because it is still, theoretically, mongoose-free.
In Hawaii, mongooses are the poster animals for the devastation wrought by invasive species because, well, they bite, they carry disease, they breed like crazy, they kill native birds and eat their eggs. In fact, they’re just generally nasty and a menace.
Here on the Big Island, mongooses are most often seen scooting across highways. A generous scattering of squashed corpses attests to those that didn’t make it.
For more information about the small Asian mongoose, go to instanthawaii.com/cgi-bin/hawaii?Animals.mongoose.