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.
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.