Why Did The Mongoose Cross The Road?

When it stands, this mongoose looks like its relative the Meerkat.

Years ago in a biology class, I learned about the Indian Mongoose’s introduction to Hawaii (in 1883) as a predator to kill the rats that were thriving in sugar cane fields.  Well, like so many ideas like this, it was a disaster (rabbits to Australia, for example…) The mongooses ate the native birds and their eggs instead.

I’d forgotten about the mongoose  until I recently saw one dashing across the road on the Big Island of Hawaii, where they are pests. As it dashed, it looked like a small ferret.  Every so often, my husband and I would see another one running like mad across the road.  I was never fast enough with my camera.  Finally, I did get a few blurry photographs of a mongoose that seemed to live in the bushes of someone’s yard outside of a botanical garden.  When it stands, it looks like a meerkat, which is one of its relatives.

Standing here, he looks like his relative the Meerkat. He may have a burrow in the yard of this house.

From wikipedia: The 1800s were a huge century for sugar cane, and plantations shot up on many tropical islands including Hawai’i and Jamaica. With sugar cane came rats, attracted to the sweet plant, which ended up causing crop destruction and loss. Attempts were made to introduce the species in Trinidad in 1870 but this failed. A subsequent trial with four males and five females from Calcutta however established in Jamaica in 1872. A paper published by W. B. Espeut that praised the results intrigued Hawaiian plantation owners who, in 1883, brought 72 mongooses from Jamaica to the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island. These were raised and their offspring were shipped to plantations on other islands. Populations that have been introduced to these islands show larger sizes than in their native ranges. They also show genetic diversification due to drift and population isolation.

Only the islands of Lana’i and Kaua’i are (thought to be) free of mongooses. There are two conflicting stories of why Kaua’i was spared. The first is that the residents of Kaua’i were opposed to having the animals on the island and when the ship carrying the offspring reached Kaua’i, the animals were thrown overboard and drowned. A second story tells that on arriving on Kaua’i one of the mongooses bit a dockworker who, in a fit of anger, threw the caged animals into the harbor to drown.

The mongoose introduction did not have the desired effect of rat control. The mongoose hunted birds and bird eggs, threatening many local island species. The mongooses bred prolifically with males becoming sexually mature at 4 months and females producing litters of 2-5 pups a year.

If that isn’t bad enough, Mongooses can carry the infectious bacterial disease Leptospirosis.

About the mongoose.

More about the mongoose.

News report about trapping Mongooses.

 

This mongoose ran back and forth on this road on the Big Island of Hawaii near Hilo several times. He kept checking to see whether I'd left.

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7 Comments

Filed under Animals, Biology, Life, Natural History, Nature, Travel

7 responses to “Why Did The Mongoose Cross The Road?

  1. Cool photos!

    I agree. When humans decide to do things like move species around for their own benefit, nature may or may not comply and results can be disastrous.

    You were in Hawaii, eh? Hope it was fun. I’ve never been but always wanted to. Did you do any diving? One of my dreams is to dive in tropical waters without a wet suit.

  2. Yes, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. One good thing typically leads to another not as good a thing. It’s all downhill from there. We were reading in school that the sparrow was first brought to the East Coast from England to keep bugs in check. It obviously thought the weather was a step up and kept moving west. They’re awfully cute though. :)

  3. That’s certainly something that I’d never see here in Canada. It does look like a meerkat when it stands up, not that I’ve ever seen a meerkat either. So glad to see some of vacation photos, trust you’ve had a wonderful time. I look forward to seeing more of Hawaii on your blog. ;)

  4. Informative posts with good pictures.

  5. You know, I never knew mongooses were so cute! I know they are a problem in Hawaii, but gosh – my cats might like a mongoose companion. :)

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