Hawaii’s feral pigs have history in their genes

The feral hogs running around Hawaii are descendants of the original pigs Polynesians brought with them to the islands as many as 800 years ago.

The findings, from DNA analysis and other methods, mean the animals are both a nuisance and a direct link to Hawaii’s cultural history.

“It has always been believed that the pigs were likely brought by famed explorer James Cook when he discovered the islands around 1778,” says Anna Linderholm, study coauthor, assistant professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University, and director of the BIG (bioarchaeology and genomics) laboratory.

“He almost certainly brought pigs, chickens, and other animals with him. But our findings show that the wild hogs there today were introduced much earlier than his arrival, by hundreds of years at least. They likely came from European or Asian descent.”

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There is no doubt that in recent years, feral hogs have become a huge problem for all of the Hawaiian Islands.

Tens of thousands of the wild pigs forage and destroy planted crops and native plants, and the pigs, which can weigh as much as 400 pounds, have become a nuisance to homeowners and ranchers, as they have in Texas, where there are at least 2.6 million feral hogs, by far the most of any state, and where they cause more than $50 million a year in damage.

But the hog problem may still give island residents a conundrum. Texans love their cattle, and Hawaiians love their pigs. Millions of visitors to the islands have attended luaus where a roasted pig in the ground is considered a must-see event, and Hawaiian lore has it that pigs were associated with various Polynesian gods and they were treated with great reverence and respect.

“The ancestry of feral hogs in Hawaii today can be traced back to Polynesians, and their colorful island history and legends are embedded in the state’s culture and many traditions,” Linderholm says.

“The lineage of these wild hogs is part of the state’s rich past, so management of these wild hogs will take considerable thought and careful planning.”

The researchers report their work in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The other researchers are from the University of Copenhagen, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the University of Hawaii, Trinity Western University of British Columbia, Uppsala University of Sweden, the University of Liverpool, the National University of Ireland, and Cornell University.

Source: Texas A&M University