On The Hunt

The Nature Conservancy takes on Hawaii's feral pigs.

Illustration by Kristin Lipman

When it comes to Hawaii’s native forests, wild pigs and goats are destructive menaces. They rip through forest ground cover, affecting watersheds and eroding soil, which can smother ecosystems in nearby waters.

There’s no good estimate of the Islands’ wild-animal populations, but researchers know they can cause a lot of damage in a small amount of time. According to The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii (TNC), a single pig can disturb an area the size of a football field in just seven days. And goats eat their way up mountains, leaving nothing but a barren trail behind them. That’s scary stuff when you consider that Hawaii has already lost about half of its native forests due to agriculture, grazing, development and the impacts of invasive species.

To help protect what’s left, TNC has hired Prohunt, a New Zealand company that specializes in hunting and monitoring wild animals in conservation areas. The company is conducting research and demonstration projects on Conservancy preserves and other private lands on Maui, Kauai and Molokai.

“Our goal is to protect the dwindling amount of native forests left in Hawaii from extinction,” says Evelyn Wight, TNC’s communications manager. “Most of these forests remain in very remote areas.” Prohunt projects include helicopter-assisted hunts and tracking 55 wild goats and pigs with telemetry collars. 

But not all Neighbor Island residents want help with their pig populations. On Molokai, where only 15 percent of native forests remain, about a third of residents rely on subsistence hunting, which includes  fishing. A small group of hunters has vehemently opposed a Prohunt project that began in the spring, even publicly threatening violence if TNC didn’t back down.

Lifetime Molokai resident Ron Rapanot, president of the Molokai Hunters Association, has no problem with Prohunt’s monitoring of wild animals, but “for the hunting part, they should leave it to the locals,” he says. “I want to see the day when my grandkids go up there and hunt and be able to catch something.”

Wight insists that TNC isn’t interested in islandwide eradication. The organization supports hunting in forests where there are invasive species and, after listening to residents at 30 community meetings over the past year, has modified its project to focus on Molokai’s largely inaccessible areas.

“Our long-term goal is to work with a locally owned and operated business that can help us manage non-native animals in core native forests, and enhance hunting opportunities in other areas,” Wight says. For now, TNC has decided to work with Prohunt because “we do not know of a local company that has all of the tools needed to run a project of this magnitude.”