Hawaiian culture is composed of people who are extremely connected with the land – malama ‘aina means to care for and live in harmony with the land, and is one of the core values in Hawaiian culture, from ancient times through today. Essentially, if you give to the land, the land will give back to you. Hawaiians are proud of their natural resources and pay them a great deal of respect, and many ancient land use practices are still continued today.
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated populated land mass on earth, located 2,400 miles from the next closest piece of land, California. Because of this, the islands are able to support an incredible amount of diversity, unlike anywhere else in the world, and are especially vulnerable to intrusion by non-native species. The spectacular flora and fauna have coevolved with one another in a way that allowed them to persist without the need for harsh defense mechanisms that are seen in most places. These ecosystems remained untouched, allowing nature and man to persist peacefully. In order for new species to be introduced, they would be required to swim across the ocean – an unimaginable task, or be brought over by humans. Large numbers of settlers began moving to Hawaii in the 1800s, which is when the delicate balance of the ecosystem began experiencing disruptions that are still causing major problems over 200 years later.
Rats were unintentionally introduced via shipping traffic, and the numerous new sugar cane farms provided the rats with vast resources and allowed them to become established. Much to the discontent of sugar cane farmers, crops were decimated by rat predation. A seemingly simple solution emerged in 1872 in Jamaica, which was experiencing similar issues with rats at the time. The decision was made to introduce several dozen Asian mongoose, small carnivores that are known to feed on rats in their native habitat. Upon hearing of this strategy, hopeful sugar cane plantation owners decided to import mongoose to Hawaii in an attempt to remove rats and protect their crops. Mongoose were shipped to all the islands, excluding Lana’i and Kaua’i.
Unfortunately, the mongoose minimally impacted rat populations due to a variety of unforeseen factors. Firstly, the rats and mongoose were active at different times of day, as rats are nocturnal and mongoose are not. Interaction between the two species was limited therefore preventing any manageable predation on the rats.
Additionally, it turned out that the plentiful supply of ground nesting bird eggs and hatchlings offered an abundant, of easy to find food source for the mongoose. As a result, native Hawaiian and migratory birds began experiencing severe population declines due to the new and intense nest predation. Mongoose reproduce rapidly and have become widely distributed throughout the islands. They remain on all but two islands, and are partially to blame, along with other human-induced factors, for the near extinction of several Hawaiian bird species.