Daytime Drama

While on the Big Island, you may have spotted an interesting creature, sprinting across your path or dashing across the highway. Usually light brown in color, these quick-moving animals may, at first glance, appear to be large rats or squirrels. They are the island’s mongooses, or manakuke, descendants of Hawaii’s booming sugar industry. The mongoose was glorified in Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book in which the valiant young mongoose—Rikki-Tikki-Tavi—was the hero, saving a family from venomous snakes in their garden. While the Hawaiian Islands are snake-free, sugar plantation owners imported the animals in the 1880s in hopes of ridding their cane fields of crop-destroying rats. Buoyed by erroneous reports of the mongooses’ success in Jamaica’s cane fields, 72 Indian Mongoose were brought from Jamaica to the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast in 1883. It was a move that proved to be a big mistake. Being that the mongoose has no natural predators in Hawaii, their small population rapidly grew. Also to the disappointment of many plantation owners, they soon realized that rats are nocturnal creatures, while mongooses are diurnal or active during the day—their paths rarely ever cross! As it turns out, rather than destroying pests, mongooses have become the pest, with their voracious appetites for bird eggs. The animal is now one of the most serious threats to Hawaii’s native population of ground nesting birds, including the beloved nene (Hawaiian goose). To protect the endangered native bird species, numerous federal and state agencies have predator control projects in place to keep the mongoose population in check. Currently, only the islands of Kauai and Lanai are believed to be mongoose-free.

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