Eradicating the Mongoose from Islands
Humans are problem solvers; we see an issue and try to fix it. This has occurred throughout human history, and often we have resorted to using animals to help solve our problems. Yet, often we find ourselves focusing solely at the problem at hand and forgetting about the future consequences of our actions. The Mongoose is an ample example of this; we introduced it may years ago to solve a problem and now have to confront the consequences of our actions. The eradication of the Mongoose on several islands has been an ongoing endeavor, but is it an endeavor that ethically we should back? People argue that if it is not native it should be destroyed, but how far back does it have to be introduced into an area for it to be considered native? At some point every current “native” species migrated into a new location and was able to outcompete and establish itself. Where do we draw the line? It is not the Mongoose’s fault it finds itself stranded on an island, it is our fault. Yet, the Mongoose is having detrimental effects on the delicate island ecosystems it has been introduced to and thusly, I believe we should humanely eradicate the Mongoose from islands that it is had a negative environmental or ecological effect.
In the early 1800’s sugarcane plantations on several Hawaiian and Caribbean Islands introduced the Mongoose as a means to naturally control the local rat populations. Yet, unbeknownst to the plantation owners, rats are a nocturnal species whilst the Mongoose is a diurnal species (National Geographic). So like ships passing in the night, they had very little contact with each other and rapidly the Mongoose population began growing. The Mongoose, a carnivorous predator, has the ability to give birth to pups at ten months and have two to three litters of up to three pups a year, making them a species that can quickly get a foothold in a new environment (HISC, 2013). An opportunistic carnivore like this can wreak havoc on an island void of other mammalian predators, and since the introduction of the Mongoose we have seen declines in several endemic island species; primarily sea turtles and sea birds.
The Hawksbill sea turtle, Green sea turtle, and several sea birds, which use the Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands as a nesting ground, have felt the impact of the Mongoose the most. Though, correlation does not equal causation, in this case there is a definite relationship between the two. Granted, we cannot solely blame the decline of turtle and seabird populations on the Mongoose, there are several other factors that have catalyzed their decline. The Mongoose is simply a piece of the puzzle that, without the focus of the community, will cause a further and possibly permanent decline in these populations. Even Mongoose Biologist Buzz Hoagland, a man who advocates for protecting the Mongoose, finds the Mongoose to be “a threat to sea turtles” (Miller, 2015). Thus, the humane eradication of the Mongoose from Islands where they are correlated with a decline in nesting sea birds and sea turtles is necessary to help protect native species that are more specialized, endemic, and/or endangered.
There are several methods currently being used for the eradication of the Mongoose on islands, but it is an endeavor that will not succeed with partial efforts. Currently, several islands are baiting live traps and euthanatizing the Mongoose caught. This is a time consuming endeavor and in some localities every trap must be checked daily to comply with various laws; e.g. Animal Welfare Act of 1999 in New Zealand (New Zealand Legislation, 2015). Using live traps also will only work if there is no food readily available in the area, Mongoose primarily feed on trash other food sources (including eggs) are only opportunistic. There are not very many kill traps that can humanely and effectively kill the Mongoose, the DOC 250 is one of the few traps that is being used and typically sells for 130 USD per unit (Connovation). Due to these reasons it is an expensive endeavor to attempt to even control the Mongoose populations, thus many would argue why should we fund it?
Sea turtles and sea birds are two groups that are highly important for both the Island’s and Ocean’s ecology and economy. Tourism including scuba diving, bird watching, and nature resorts where tourist can learn about these sea birds and turtles is a large factor for the economy. It is hard to sell tee shirts with a turtle on them when the island’s turtles have already been pushed to extinction. Turtles are a charismatic flagship species and by getting people to care about them and try to save them we can actually save several other species too. The Mongoose does not bring in any sort of income to the economy, and though in other areas of the world they are great for controlling populations, in the Caribbean and Hawaiian Island’s they are detrimental.
My proposed approach to controlling and hopefully eradicating the Mongoose population is one that would take the entire island community to make small changes that together will help solve this problem. The Mongoose primarily feed on human trash so the first step in controlling the population is to control our waste; Mongoose proof trash cans should be implemented on all islands thus limiting their potential resources. After reducing their potential resources it is important to increase the use of kill traps and live traps, especially in nesting areas. This would require a lot of man power to implement but the up keep will be relatively easy. By using kill traps and implementing sensors the give off “open” and “closed” signals on both live traps and kill traps, it is much easier to maintain the traps.
Limiting food sources, increasing the number of traps, and lowering the amount of upkeep the traps require is one of the best solutions for controlling and hopefully eradicating the Mongoose population. As it is a fast growing population it is important to keep up on trapping and studying these animals to ensure that their population size is diminishing with these efforts. This will not be a cheap endeavor, but over time the damage caused by the Mongoose, an estimated 50 million USD in Hawaii and Costa Rica, will make their eradication worth it. Looking into the future, by eradicating the Mongoose there is one less species hurting the endangered sea bird and turtle population and more importantly one less scapegoat for people to blame when the biggest cause for species decline is habitat destruction. We will not be able to come full terms with the true problem that is global climate change until we give the naysayers no other reason for the decline in species, we just have to hope efforts can be focused before it is too late.