Episode 32: New species with Dr. Sam Gon
It was not just the people who saw their lives disrupted by the introductions of early Western explorers—the land was affected too. On his 1794 visit to the Islands Captain George Vancouver brought cattle as a gift for Kamehameha, the ali‘i who united the Islands. Kamehameha placed a kapu on the cattle and had them set free; before long their numbers had multiplied and they were wreaking havoc on a landscape unaccustomed to a mammalian presence. Here is Dr. Sam Gon.
“If I had to select one species to not have ever gotten to the Hawaiian Islands, it probably would have been cows. After a hundred years of uncontrolled spread, we see the photos of Nu‘uanu Valley in 1900 and it’s treeless. You look at the valley and there’s not a tree in it. And that was the result of just uncontrolled presence of large grazing animals.”
As more and more new species arrived into native ecosystems, a finely honed balance was upset time and time again. Before contact, the Hawaiian ecosystem was made up of some 10,000 species; since contact humans have introduced some 30,000 more. Many of those introductions have been benign, but some species, free of their natural enemies, have radically disrupted native ecosystems. Today strawberry guava, miconia, ants and mosquitos are just a few of the invasives that have dramatically changed the Hawaiian landscape.