Hog Wild

HILO — Wild pigs are a destructive invasive species to Hawaiian habitats.

Or, they walked side-by-side with Polynesian immigrants onto the Islands about 800 years ago — and belong here just as much as humans.

The view you take depends on a mix of traditional belief systems, conservation, hunting, history and science. The half-pig/half-human Kamapuaa might also weigh heavily on your shoulders as you form your opinion.

One thing is now certain, though.

A collaborative effort with Texas A&M and several other universities, including the University of Hawaii, says genetic proof now exists that “the ancestry of feral hogs in Hawaii today can be traced back to Polynesians.”

So says Anna Linderholm, assistant professor of anthropology at A&M.

The “colorful island history and legends” of wild hogs, she said, “are embedded in the state’s culture and many traditions.”

Researchers analyzed DNA and genetic markers in 57 feral hogs and “found that the hogs are almost certainly direct descendants of pigs brought to the Islands,” possibly as long as 800 years ago “by Polynesians who eventually inhabited Hawaii.”

“I agree with that completely,” said Tom Lodge, chairman of the Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission.

Lodge said he has been a voracious reader of information about pigs in order to better understand their presence in the state.

Pigs were almost certainly brought by James Cook as well as by early Polynesians, he said.

But pigs brought by Cook were probably pen-raised and would have been more likely to remain near settlements — and get eaten. Pigs in modern day Samoa, by contrast, live communally, Lodge said. If there are three or four pigs living near several families, and one animal is taken for food, all the neighbors might share that meat.

Thus, pigs raised free-range by Polynesian ancestors of Native Hawaiians might have been less likely to stay near settlements. That, Lodge thinks, might be one reason pigs brought by Polynesians were able to proliferate.

“Scientists have long believed that Polynesians who came to Hawaii brought animals with them, including pigs,” said Kalena Silva, professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at Ka Haka Ula O Ke‘likolani, the UH College of Hawaiian Language in Hilo.

There’s also ample evidence that Polynesians who first came to the Islands knew what pigs were, he said, and thus they ended up in oral histories. Linderholm said it has long been “believed that the pigs were likely brought by famed explorer James Cook” when he landed in 1778 and made first European contact with Native Hawaiians. But the new DNA-marker analysis documents the pigs roaming wild in Hawaii today are direct descendants of the animals originally brought along by Polynesian ancestors of Native Hawaiians.

Lodge said pigs should not be vilified.

He thinks people who advocate that wild pigs should be eradicated ignore the animal’s historic role.

“Pigs, goats, sheep, deer, anything that is introduced to Hawaii, is considered to be invasive by those people, regardless of the fact of whether they were introduced for survival,” Lodge said.

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Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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