The Pig War
A small army of hunters struggles to control one of
Hawaii's most destructive exotic pests.
by Kenneth Brower
Two miles into the tree-fern forest of 'Ola'a Tract, Dan Taylor pulled the jeep
onto a grassy shoulder of the road. The macadam ran on straight and narrow,
bisecting the spring-green wilderness of fronds. The hapu'u, the tree ferns,
made a secondary canopy under a thin, much-broken primary canopy of ohialehua.
The secondary canopy here was continuous and much more impressive than the
first. It was as if some sparse Serengeti had germinated atop Amazonian jungle.
In the structure of their fronds, in the dark little dots of sori on the
undersides, the hapu'u looked similar to any number of fern species on the
mainland, but they were much larger. The hapu'u canopy formed twenty to thirty
feet above the ground. Ahead the straightness of the road wavered in the heat
and the far fronds trembled, as scenery might around a time machine building up
steam. We had left the twentieth century, the Big Island, and Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park. We had taken a chronological wrong turn, a detour into the
On the left-hand side of the road, behind the wire fence, Taylor told me, was
tree-fern forest from which feral pigs had been eliminated. On the right was
forest where pigs still rooted and rambled. He led me into the right-hand
The light under the canopy was cool and green. The air was humid, the breeze
stilled, the mood carboniferous. Overhead, the backlit fronds interdigitated
with few gaps between, making a green tent of chlorophyll, but underfoot the
forest floor was broken by black, muddy trails and turnpikes. Here and there
the mud was firm enough to hold the impression of a cloven hoof.
Taylor picked one of these trails and proceeded down it. Daniel Taylor is a
career man with the U.S. Park Service, a general in a war against the pigs. He
is a fair-skinned, soft-spoken man of middle age and height, his features
pleasantly weathered by a lifetime in the field. He came to Hawaii Island in
1979, from a post in Glacier National Park. Before that he worked in the North
Cascades, and before that in Yosemite and Sequoia. Today he wore his uniform
slacks and a pair of lightweight boots. I was barefoot, and the black mud of
the pig trail felt wonderful between my toes. In this matter, at least, I could
empathize with the enemy.
"Rubus ellipticus, introduced raspberry," Taylor announced, fetching a vine and
bending it toward me. He gave me a significant glance. Moving several steps on,
we stopped before another vine. "Passiflora mollisima, passionflower.
Banana-poka, in Hawaiian. It's South American, a minor constituent of the flora
in Colombia, Bolivia, but here...It was introduced in 1952 by an imbecile. I
can't remember his name. Passiflora edulis is the passionfruit humans generally
eat, but pigs like mollisima. They love the fruit. They eat it, defecate, and
spread the seeds. The vine goes up into the canopy and spreads." Overspreading
the ferns, the vine stole the sunlight and took over the forest.
We walked a few dozen yards and then, beside a fallen tree-fern trunk, Taylor
went down on one knee.
"See? This is a banana-poka seedling. A whole bunch of them--" The clump of
seedlings made a perfect circle on the wet blackness at the side of the trail.
"--eight, nine, ten, eleven...eighteen," Taylor said, counting the legacy of
that particular pig. Without rising, he leaned out to brush another circle of
seedlings. The seedlings of this second clump were much smaller, having just
broken the surface. "Here's another generation. Eight, nine, ten...There goes
We walked on, Taylor sensibly avoiding the muddiest places and I, barefoot,
looking forward to them and squishing through the deepest parts.
"We're looking desperately for a biological control," Taylor said. "Right now a
forester is working in Colombia and Bolivia, searching for one. But for the
moment there's not a damn thing we can do. I think this forest is doomed."
We left the doomed forest and crossed to the other side of the road.
Inside the pigless forest the fronds overhead interdigitated flawlessly,
leaving no breaks in the canopy. Where across the road the light had been cool
and green, here it was cooler and greener. The going was slow, because pigs had
not opened up avenues. Recumbent trunks and aerial roots were everywhere, and
making progress into the forest was like trying to run a race over hurdles
still stacked against the stadium wall.
At intervals among the trunks of the tree ferns were trunks of ohia-lehua,
which ran up through the canopy to leaf somewhere out of sight above.
Occasionally one of the ohia stood on stilts.
The ohia, a Polynesian myrtle, often begins life as an epiphyte on tree ferns,
germinating on the fern stumps or high on the trunks, sometimes twenty feet or
more above the ground. As a trunk-germinated ohia tree grows, its roots begin
to search for the ground, entwining their host. The tree fern, like a slender
lifeguard who has rescued a desperate matron more vital than himself, begins to
strangle. By the time the ohia's frantic roots have found solid bottom, the
fern has gasped its last, decayed, and disappeared, and the ohia is left
sanding on stilts. The surrounding tree ferns hurry to fill in the void left by
their fallen comrade--the tree fern's mission is to make a green heaven on
earth--and soon the secondary canopy is complete again.
Taylor and I stopped and stood quiet for a moment, letting the silence of the
forest sink in. It was a closer, deeper silence than the silence across the
way. The effect of the green light was powerful and nearly instantaneous. It
put a part of the brain to sleep, that region concerned with projects,
ambitions, worry, war, death, taxes. It awakened another part, the region
concerned with things less easy to name: listening, waiting, half-surmise.
"The key to this forest is the integrity of the tree-fern canopy," Taylor said,
perhaps having decided that the green light had primed me sufficiently. "If you
look twenty feet above your head, you can see that the tree-fern fronds
interlock, forming a subcanopy. The woody canopy above is very open, broken,
not contiguous. What really keeps the forest closed is that tree-fern subcanopy
twenty feet or so above the ground.
"The canopy does a lot of things. It keeps the sunlight from penetrating
directly to the forest floor, except in a very few places--and there for only a
few minutes during the day. That keeps the temperatures down, keeps them more
even, and maintains a more predictable environment for plants. The humidity is
higher than in the forest across the street. The canopy breaks up the impact of
raindrops. These big tropical raindrops don't impact the forest floor directly.
What falls down here is a kind of mist. Atomized raindrops.
"When tree ferns fall down, as they naturally do, they try to grow like this
one here." He pointed to the green python of a recumbent trunk lying at our
feet. "You see how this main stem runs along the ground, then suddenly takes a
right angle and grows up over there? Well, that's the way tree ferns
regenerate. When pigs are present, and that tree-fern stem is lying on the
ground, the pigs will come along and munch on it. They like to chew the starchy
interior of the stem. It's a favorite food item with them.
"That chewing does a couple of things. It kills the tree fern, to begin with,
so there goes the canopy. The pigs also leave a hollow behind when they've
chewed on the stem, a trough in which water collects, and the water breeds
mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are not native here, nor is the avian malaria that they
carry. The native bird population doesn't tolerate the malaria very well.
Introduced birds do better. We think one of the major causes, if not the major
cause, of the decline of native forest birds is avian malaria. Pigs are
implicated in that as well."
A generation ago Hawaiian cowboys, riding by a certain burial site in the
northern grasslands of the Big Island, were in the habit of reining in,
dismounting, and urinating on the grave. Buried here was "Mongoose" Forbes. In
the 1870s Forbes sold mongooses to the managers of Hawaii's sugar plantations,
on the grounds that this import from Asia would eat rats. (Norway rats had
jumped ship in Hawaii and were raising Cain in the cane.) The disrespectful
posthumous salute by the Hawaiian cowboys would have mystified Forbes. Like
most of those men who have introduced alien animals to islands, Mongoose Forbes
thought he was doing good.
Exotic wildlife wreaks plenty of havoc on the continents--starlings, sparrows,
camels, and carp on our own, for example--but nowhere have exotics caused more
devastation and disruption than in the simple, sheltered ecosystems of islands.
Isolation from the rough-and-tumble of natural selection, mainland style, has
allowed islands to develop a wonderful, often bizarre, flowering of forms. In
Australia--a continent, actually, but so isolated that the island principle
applies--marsupials filled all the mammal niches: marsupial bears, marsupial
wolves, marsupial rhinoceroses. In the Galapagos Islands finches speciated to
fill a wide range of avian niches, and giant lizards went to sea to play otter.
Isolation makes islands into fine natural laboratories for scientists like
Darwin, and islands have given rise to some elegant theories; but isolation
also makes for vulnerability. In Australia the marsupials and the monotremes,
the two most primitive mammalian orders, were living in a fool's paradise. On
continents across the sea the placenta had been invented and had spread;
evolution had passed Australia by and Australia never knew it. The marsupial
wolf had a terrible shock when, for the first time, it saw a real canine
face-to-face. For many insular species the first encounter with the outside
world has been followed shortly by extinction.
The new arrivals have the power to alter the very landscape. Real rabbits,
replacing the marsupial kind, accomplished that by desertifying vast stretches
of Australia. The placental rabbit, with its enormous reproductive potential
and its quicker wit, was a ninety-year plague on that island-continent. In one
year, 1887, twenty-eight years into the plague, nearly 20 million rabbits were
killed by the desperate inhabitants of New South Wales alone. Earlier the
"European" rabbit, moving north from its native North Africa, had overrun
Corsica, Sardinia, and the British Isles. Later it would overrun New Zealand
and the San Juans, in Puget Sound. In 1903, during the Australian plague, some
genius introduced the rabbit to Laysan Island, in Hawaii's leeward chain, and
Laysan was promptly reduced to desert; of twenty-six native plants known in
1923 only four remained.
I didn't plan it this way, but my career has often deposited me on islands. The
problem of exotic introductions to island environments is one that has grown on
me. On Maui, across the channel from the Big Island, I have braked time and
again for mongooses gliding across the road. My instincts were wrong--I should
have accelerated. Some of those mongooses were out hunting rats, as Mongoose
Forbes had intended, but more were out after native birds and their eggs.
(Hawaii's avifauna, thanks to pigs, cattle, mongooses, mosquitoes, and men, has
suffered the highest extinction rate of any avifauna on this planet. In the
past few centuries approximately 40 percent of Hawaii's known native bird
species have become extinct. On the current list of rare and endangered birds
thirty of the sixty-seven species found in the United States were Hawaiian. The
Hawaiian goose, the Hawaiian duck, the Hawaiian coot, hawk, thrush, stilt, and
crow--among others--are in imminent danger of joining the Hawaiian rail, last
collected near the rain forest in 1864, the greater and lesser koa finches, not
seen since 1896; the greater 'amakihi, not seen since early in this century;
the kioea, the ula-ai-hawane, the mamo, the black mamo, and dozens of others
that have passed into oblivion.)
In the Galapagos Islands I have tracked herds of feral goats that compete for
forage with the giant tortoises for which that archipelago is named. From hotel
windows in Britain I have drawn imaginary beads on the American gray squirrels
that have overrun that island, displacing the smaller native red squirrels,
barking and girdling thousands of good English hardwoods, and sorely testing
the patience of the natives, that most animal-loving of peoples. In the Palau
Archipelago of Micronesia, venturing out on dawn walks, I have passed armies of
giant African snails headed the other way, crawling back to the bushes after
their nightly depredations.
The giant African snail, Achatina fulica, grows nearly to the size of a
football and can weigh more than a pound. Introduced from Madagascar, where it
is native, to the smaller island of Mauritius, to the east, it quickly became a
serious pest in cotton fields. In 1847 an English traveler, W. H. Benson, saw
the snails on Mauritius and took a few along with him to India. (Mauritius, it
happens, was home of the dodo, type specimen for extinct island animals
everywhere. The gargantuan snail can be seen as the Dodo's Revenge.) Benson's
snails multiplied prodigiously in India, as populations tend to do there. By
1900 the snail was in Ceylon, eating cocoa; next it was in Malaya, eating
rubber trees. From its new centers of dispersal it made slow, slimy, but steady
progress outward, eating melons, legumes, rice, rat poison--upon which it
thrived--and the lime from any whitewashed walls and fences that stood in its
way. It was introduced to the Micronesian islands by the Japanese, who
considered the snail a delicacy.
In the Palau Islands once, as an experiment, I tried feeding the huge African
snails to the native estuarine crocodiles that were confined to cages on the
lawn of the small biology laboratory where I worked and lived. The trouble with
exotic arrivals on islands, I knew, is that few natural predators lie waiting
for them. Nothing could be more naturally predatory, I thought, than a
twelve-foot croc. The crocodiles rudely took the experimental snails from my
hand through the heavy mesh. Crocodiles can be very fast when they want to be,
and one small croc lacerated my finger against the cage before I realized its
head had moved. Each crocodile, having taken the shell, invariably fumbled and
dropped it. I think the crocodiles expected a whole arm, not just this
calcareous thing the hand was holding. The reptile would then retrieve the
snail, which clinked like a fifty-caliber shell casing against its teeth.
Suddenly deft, the crocodile tossed and shifted the snail backward down its
snaggly row of teeth toward the fulcrum at the corner of its jaw. It clamped
down, cracked the shell, swallowed. After two or three snails, unfortunately,
the dim reptilian brain came to realize it did not care for escargots, and each
crocodile lost interest.
My crocodile results were typical. Those who have followed men like Mongoose
Forbes and "Snail" Benson--as that shortsighted Englishman might have been
called--and "Starling" Scheifflin and "Mynah" Hillebrand seldom have much luck
undoing the deeds of those notorious tinkerers. In their unnatural contexts
exotic pests seem to possess an unnatural vitality. Before coming to Hawaii I
had witnessed only one campaign--the program to control the coconut rhinoceros
beetle in Micronesia--in which man seemed to be winning.
In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park the most destructive of exotic pests is the
pig. It is estimated that four thousand feral pigs live in the park, foraging
25 percent of its territory, or 60,000 acres. The damage they do is difficult
to quantify--pigs have been loose in Hawaii for centuries, and no pre-pig
baseline data exist--but in 1968 the Park Service gave quantification a try,
setting up an exclosure in the fern forest near Thurston Lava Tube. Pigs were
fenced out from the exclosure's 900 square meters of ohia trees and hapu'u and
Sadleria ferns. Thirteen years later, plots inside and outside the exclosure
were sampled and compared. Where pigs had roamed freely, Park Service
researchers found a more abundant cover of exotic grasses and herbs, a greater
number of exotic plant species, more exposed soil, and more exposed roots.
Inside the exclosure they found more native plant species, fewer exotics, less
exposed soil, and fewer exposed roots. The exclosure experiment confirmed the
intuitions of anyone who spends much time in the Hawaiian backcountry. The
enclosure had become a small, ferny, atavistic island drifting back toward the
flora of old Hawaii. Around it, sharky with pigs, was a sea drifting the other
way, toward pauperization, bastardization, and desert.
It seemed to me now, standing in the 'Ola'a tree ferns with Dan Taylor, that
the most cosmopolitan of the alien animals I had seen on islands was the pig. I
remembered stumbling into the sandy bowls that feral pigs excavate in Galapagos
beaches as they snout out the nests of sea turtles. I recalled the small
deserts I had seen pigs make in the jungle around the stilted longhouses of
Iban tribesmen on Borneo, and the feral-pig damage I had observed in the
palmettos of the Sea Islands of Georgia. I decided that in the war against the
pigs I would throw in on Taylor's side.
In the Jeep again, Taylor made a U-turn, and we retreated from our detour into
the Paleozoic of 'Ola'a. We left the tree ferns behind, passed out of Kilauea
Volcano's rainy zone, and drove southward into the lava desert of the Chain of
Craters Road. Zonation on islands is often radically abbreviated, and it was so
here--a ten-minute drive brought us into entirely different country. If the
'Ola'a ferns belonged to the Paleozoic, then this new terrain belonged to some
Archeozoic age of vulcanism or to some dry and blasted age of our future. We
passed through the small, black lithic sea of the 1969 lava flow, pushed up at
regular intervals into small buttes. The buttes were tree molds. Inside each
one were the remnants of an ohia that
the lava had flowed over. We passed the pit craters for which the road is
named: Devil's Throat, Hi'iaka Crater, Puhimau Crater. The feral pig, versatile
animal, lives in this country, too.
Taylor pulled the jeep off the road onto a cindery shoulder. On the eastern
side of the pavement was Puhimau Crater. On the western side was a thermal area
of whitened ohia snags and steamy ground--a pit crater in the process of
becoming, some vulcanologists believe. On the crater side was a pig fence.
Taylor, climbing down from the jeep, bent to tug at the lowermost wire.
"The bottom wire is real tight--they can't root under it," he said. "If they do
start to root, we know it right away, because we walk the fence every two weeks
on inspections. We pull trees off the wire and fix breaks. Pigs are fast but
not particularly agile. They aren't good jumpers. The fence is only thirty-two
inches high, but that's enough."
The fence ran to the edge of Puhimau Crater, incorporating that natural feature
as part of the pig barrier, and then resumed on the other side. The pigs within
this Puhimau Unit, fenced off from the rest of their kind, were under almost
daily attack by Park Service hunters and dogs.
"Pigs were introduced two hundred years ago or more," Taylor said. "So a lot of
people here think of pigs as native animals. They don't understand why we are
trying to control them. The school system lets us down badly. The local schools
don't teach Hawaiian natural history. We have a huge education effort at hand.
We've got to manage the resource and educate people as to why. There's a lot of
misunderstanding on why we manage the park as we do. We're tolerated by most
people, understood by a few, disliked by some. Recreational pig hunters--the
Hawaiians who hunt for meat--are the most hostile."
I considered for a moment the hypothesis that those hunters were right. Perhaps
the native ecosystem was so shattered that any attempt at reconstruction was
foolish. Better, maybe, to pretend that pigs and passionflowers were native, to
let them achieve some new balance, and start managing from there.
"It's been two centuries now," I suggested. "Is there anything like a new
Taylor shook his head. "The system has not begun to accommodate these
As we walked back to the jeep, Taylor nodded toward the roadside. "You see the
lighter-colored green in there?" I did. Among the drab, desert greens of scrub
ohia and pukiawe were clumps of a paler green. "Sandalwood," Taylor said.
I knew something of the story of sandalwood: discovered by Captain Cook in
1778; commercialized by Captain Kendrick in 1791; worth eight to ten dollars a
picul in China, where the fragrant, close-grained heartwood was made into
incense, carvings, and cabinetwork; nearly extinct by 1886, when the logging
ceased. A picul, about 133 pounds, was the load that a Hawaiian was supposed to
be able to carry from the woods. King Kamehameha financed his conquest of the
Hawaiian Archipelago largely by the sale of sandalwood in Canton. I had written
all this up once, but I had never seen the actual tree.
"Goats," Taylor explained. "There used to be a lot of them in here. Since we
eliminated the goats here, the sandalwoods are just bouncing back."
The war against feral goats preceded the war against the pigs, and the rangers
learned many of the rules of animal warfare in that earlier effort. The goat,
Capra hircas, was probably introduced to Hawaii Island by Captain Cook in 1778,
in the vicinity of Kealekekua Bay, on the western shore, and it quickly spread
over the entire island. In the 1920s control efforts began in Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park. Between 1927 and 1970, 70,000 goats were killed in the park by
deputized hunters, rangers, foresters, Civilian Conservation Corps personnel
under ranger supervision, and "goat-control companies" of professional hunters.
In 1970 an aerial census showed about 15,000 goats left in the
park--approximately the same number estimated to have been there when the
goat-control efforts had begun, half a century before. The goat campaigns had
been ragtag, intermittent, almost recreational, much like unsuccessful goat
campaigns I had witnessed in the Galapagos. The campaigns in Hawaii had also
failed. The remarkable randiness and the high reproductive potential of Capra
hircus had overcome every one of them.
After that 1970 census the Park Service declared war. Park planners devised a
long-range strategy: goatproof boundary fences, internal drift fences, frequent
drives, organized hunts, a vegetation-monitoring program to measure the success
or failure of their efforts. Between 1971 and 1975, 12,976 goats were killed.
Capra hircus became hard to find in the park. The citizen hunters participating
in the program lost interest and dropped out, but Park Service riflemen
continued, searching in helicopters--goat gunships--or on horseback, with dogs.
Between 1976 and 1979, 1,596 more goats were killed. By 1980 goats had been
fenced out of 90 percent of their former range and only about 200 remained in
The surviving goats proved the hardest to eliminate, predictably, and the Park
Service experimented with new methods to get rid of them. The last and perhaps
cleverest was the old Judas-goat trick, updated. Radio collars were attached to
captured coats, which were then released.
Goats are not fond of solitude, and each Judas goat invariably joined up with a
herd of its fellows. The rangers honed in on the beep of his signal. Today
fewer than half a dozen goats hold out in the park.
Sitting in the jeep, Dan Taylor waved in the direction of Puhimau Crater. The
Park Service had begun experimenting with radio collars on pigs, too, he said.
Out there somewhere, in the Puhimau Unit, a sow was beeping. This was the first
reference I heard to the animal called the Electric Pig.
Bobby Mattos, one of the park's six full-time hunters, sat at a desk writing up
his report. Behind him a huge map of the park--a battle map, divided into
hunting units--covered the wall. Mattos had just returned from a day's hunt in
the Puhimau Unit. He was sweaty and dirty, and his T-shirt was torn. The hunter
is of Portuguese ancestry, lean, brown, and in his mid-twenties. His short
beard had once been trimmed along the jawline, but the shaved part had since
gone stubbly. He is handsome in a failed-bullfighter, Mexican-bandit sort of
way. He looked rough--he was a professional cutter of throats--but his smile on
greeting Taylor was shy. He told the boss that the dogs had bumped into the
Electric Pig that day. They had missed her, once again, but later had caught a
boar. He moved to the map, and his finger made a circle inside the Puhimau
"The dogs worked this area real good, but there were no hookups. So we went
down the Sow Trail. It's a trail they always use from the bottom up. They got a
main highway going up and down. Soon as we reached down, we started hitting
some t'ick undergrowth, and the dogs started to go crazy. This is where they
caught him. We couldn't see nothing. Had to go crawling underneat' to go get
(The Sow Trail is named for a predecessor of the Electric Pig. This sow, like
the Electric Pig, was one of six feral pigs trapped, fitted with radio collars,
and released in the Puhimau Unit. The sow of Sow Trail was considerably less
ingenious than the Electric Pig. Her invariable habit when flushed by the dogs
was to run a beeline down what became known as the Sow Trail. The radio man
followed her flight with his antenna. He reported that she would hide that
night and most of the next day at the dry end of the unit, and then the next
evening would work her way back to the wet end, where the foraging was good.
This beeline sow was no more. Of the six radio-collared pigs released in
Puhimau, only one, the Electric Pig, survived.)
"This one today, he put up a good fight," Mattos said, of this afternoon's
boar. "He probably said, 'Hey? you ain't gonna take me.' He picked a good place
to fight 'em, too--thick stuff, dogs cannot move around. He gave Keoki some
pokes, too. I got a note down at the kennel. Keoki got one underneath the jaw,
and a couple of skins."
Bobby Mattos is a speaker of pidgin. When his ancestors arrived from Madeira
and the Azores to work in the cane, they met immigrant workers from the
Philippines, China, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Japan, and pidgin evolved among
them as a lingua franca, a lingua sacchara. Like most pidgin-speakers, Mattos
can turn the dialect up or down. In the field, hunting pigs, he turns it up
thick and strong. In the office he turns it down almost to English, and Taylor
can understand him.
The pigs know what's going on, for sure," Mattos said, of the embattled few in
the Puhimau Unit. "They're so afraid, you know? They're running for their
lives. This pig today, the tracker barked him. Just one bark, and the pig was
gone. I oooshed Paele on him, 'Go, go, go, go!' He knew which direction that
buggah had run, and he found 'im again. We had Mo'o, too. Mo'o is a grabber,
too. But that pig was so aggressive, he couldn't get in. Only Keoki got in.
Taylor turned to me. "Out of fifteen dogs, we have three grabbers," he
explained. "The grabbers are like infantrymen. They're the ones that get
The tracker finds the pig, the grabbers grab it, and the helpers help, worrying
its heels. The dogs' job is to surround and hold the pig, cutting off its
escape routes until the hunters come up. The dogs sometimes kill small pigs on
their own, and they routinely dispatch piglets, which the park's hunters call
"rabbits." This pig-hunting method--one or two men and a pack of
dogs--developed in the Paleolithic and is still the method Hawaii's sport
hunters use. Park Service strategists have given some thought to new wrinkles.
What would happen, they wonder, if they used a single dog trained to bark at
the pig and not attack; suppose it was some small, unthreatening, yappy breed
at which the pig would laugh before resuming his rooting? The dog would flag
the pig by sound for the rifleman coming up behind. For now, however, the park
men are sticking with the Paleolithic method. Park Service dogs are sometimes
wounded, but the pack has yet to suffer a fatality. Pigs run through human
beings who stand in their way. The humans go down like bowling pins, but the
pigs are generally in too much of a hurry to work them over on the ground. Men
hunting for pork are sometimes injured in Hawaii, but none of the Park Service
hunters has been hurt.
"Keoki, he's kind of an old dog, isn't he?" Taylor asked Mattos.
"Yeah. He's just a bull, too--pit bull."
"Pit bulls aren't good for this?" I asked.
"They're good," said Mattos, "but not too much brain, you know?"
The hunter looked to the map on the wall. "Before this program, wherever you go
there's pig damage, no matter where you look," he said. "Now all you see is
green grass growing. Today the only damage I seen was real hard to see. It was
underneath the uluhe ferns. They're not coming out anymore. They can stay ALIVE
underneath the uluhe, but they're not gonna come out and knock down hapu'u, or
nothin' like that."
The thick tangles of uluhe, the false staghorn fern, reminded Bobby Mattos of
the Electric Pig. "That sow, she sure knows what's going on," he said. "She
just knows where to run. Dogs cannot pick up real good speed in the uluhe. They
get all tangled up, whereas the pig will just put down her nose and--no
problem. She's like a torpedo through there."
Pigs, built close to the ground, are made for crashing through brush, Dan
Taylor explained. Dogs are rangier animals, and less canny. He asked if I had
noticed the cracks on Kilauea. I had. Cracks ramify everywhere on the slopes of
that volcano, a consequence of seismic shifts accompanying the mountain's
vulcanism. Those cracks were often hidden by uluhe and other vegetation, Taylor
said, and dogs sometimes fell into them. Pigs did not. Bobby Mattos nodded, and
confessed that just last week the hunters had lost a dog in a crack. Dogs fell
thirty feet sometimes, and the hunters had to go down after them with ropes and
harnesses. It was slimy down there, Mattos added, making a face. "A pig knows
the cracks, but the dogs don't know."
I could see how it was: The Electric Pig fleeing like a torpedo down her
runways under the uluhe--captured once and collared, determined never to be
captured again--the men cursing behind her, the dogs crashing through the fern
tangles. Then the yelp as a tracker or a grabber felt the earth open up
beneath, his barking suddenly frantic and distant, like the complaint of a fly
trapped under a tumbler, the Electric Pig running on.
We left the watershed of Kilauea volcano, the five dogs tied to the bed of the
truck by short leashes. Ahead the smooth arc of Mauna Loa showed a pale red in
the dawn light. Later in the morning a cap of cloud would form cutting off the
summit. Only early risers get to see the whole of the earth's greatest active
I could remember no mountain in my life that gave so poor a sense of scale. At
this hour it looked more a mountain of sand than of lava. Mauna Loa might have
been a near, lunate dune encroaching on the backside of this ohia forest. It
might have been a giant, pale-rose moon rising over the same ohias.
The truth was somewhere in between. Mauna Loa contains 10,000 cubic miles of
material. I once heard a park interpreter tell a Volcanoes Park audience that
this one mountain contains more rock than the entire Sierra Nevada and Mount
Shasta combined. Her facts were wrong but nicely suggestive. Mauna Loa is among
the largest shield volcanoes in the solar system. Theia Mons, on Venus, is
considerably larger, and Olympus Mons, on Mars, is even larger than Theia, but
both those places are far away, and you can't get there by pickup truck.
Turning off the highway onto the Mauna Loa Strip Road, we left the ohias behind
and meandered up through koa forest. The turns were sharp, the surface cracked
and potholed. The koa trunks, white in the early-morning light, reminded me of
aspen back home. The truck flushed several coveys of California quail. They
were exotics, but I was glad to see them. It was hard to feel indignant--I am
an exotic from California myself.
This trip into the dry forest of Mauna Loa's lower slopes was a training hunt
for the young dogs and for me. The pigs of the Puhimau Unit, where the hunters
had been concentrating their efforts lately, were so close to eradication--just
three to six pigs left--that sometimes days passed without the dogs' flushing a
single one. Today the plan was to reacquaint the dogs and acquaint the
Harry Pagan drove, checking the dogs occasionally in his rearview mirror. Pagan
is Filipino-Puerto Rican, a dark-skinned man, stocky and quiet. At thirty-two,
he is the oldest of the hunters.
"He seems to me the best of the lot," one of his Park Service superiors had
told me. "He goes THROUGH the uluhe. He doesn't plan his hunt, or try to hunt
around anything. He just goes where he thinks the pigs are going to be. He's a
joy to hunt with. He's really good with a needle--good at sewing dogs up,
getting them back to health once they get gored by pigs. Harry is unusual in
that he hunts the 'Ola'a Tract. Most hunters in the 'Ola'a rain forest will
look for signs right by the road. Harry will hike back for a couple of hours or
I had spoken with one female ranger who was convinced, having watched Pagan's
calm intensity in the hunt, having seen his efficiency at killing pigs in
hand-to-hoof combat, with a knife, that Pagan was a Vietnam combat veteran--had
to be. He is not, but he does do weekend duty with the National Guard. He likes
the military, and in conversation he often turns to soldiering for his
metaphors. His partner today was Casey Baldwin, a young, blond Californian
working seasonally as a hunter.
The dogs were Paele, Gus, Hana, Shy, and Moku. Paele was the tracker, the
oldest and most experienced of the five. His name means "black" in Hawaiian,
and he certainly was that. Gus looked to be part airedale, and Hana looked
vaguely like a collie. Shy was a short-haired, muscular mongrel with a snuffly,
rasping way of breathing that came, Pagan said, from heartworm. Moku was a
lean, rawboned, ribby one-year-old that looked to be part black-and-tan. The
park's kennel-keeper and dog-procurer had told me, earlier that morning, of the
importance of finding dogs with the right "lines." I could not remember meeting
a bunch of dogs with lines more sketchy and tangled. I suspected that these had
been recruited from hangouts comparable to the ones where, in human society,
the French recruit legionnaires.
Halfway to the end of the road Pagan pulled off and parked. We unbuckled the
collars, and the freed dogs hit the roadside bushes, marking every shrub in
sight. That accomplished, we entered the bush. One after another the dogs
stopped, hunkered in the shamefaced way of dogs, and unloaded, lightening
themselves for the job. For a time that odor was heavy upon us. Then all the
dogs were in running trim, and we smelled nothing other than the good desert
pungency of the xeric vegetation on Mauna Loa's middle flanks. We wore long
sleeves against the thorns, and baseball caps against the sun. We carried our
lunch and water in day packs, and Casey Baldwin cradled the rifle, a lever
A knife was best for pigs, Pagan told me as we walked. A knife was economical
and less risky for the dogs. Sticking a pig wasn't as hard as it sounded--once
you had a pig by the back legs, he was yours. In certain situations, though,
you had to shoot. A .22 was too small for the job. I wondered aloud about other
calibers. What about a 30.06? Both hunters laughed at me. Too big, they said:
it would go right through the pig and hit the dogs.
"Oh, I hunt from ten years old," Pagan said, when I asked. "On my own, and with
my uncle. At ten years old, I knew how to stick a pig--the whole works. My
first experience, I was scared. We caught four pigs in one bunch. They make a
big sound, let me tell you. Loud grunting. MEAN! In those days there's so much
pigs, man. I mean it was unreal. Now you really have to work for your pigs."
"And you still like it?"
He smiled and waggled his head weakly, ruefully--a man admitting to a powerful
addiction. "Oh, I love it."
We were moving through open parkland broken here and there by pukiawe thickets.
Now and again Pagan would stop and intently watch Paele, the tracker. It was as
if he were reading in Paele's behavior some transliteration of the olfactory
messages the dog was picking up. We came to places where pigs had rooted. They
had left furrows in the grass, the clods overturned, the undersides
fine-bearded with rootlets. It was old sign, and Pagan was not interested. The
dogs coursed through the bush without barking, and the two hunters spoke very
"You don't give voice commands," I observed.
"We're not too much into obedience," Pagan answered. "The only thing is to get
them to fight the pig, right now. It's in the dog. If he's going to be a
hunter, he'll show signs of interest early. Some are just natural. Some take
longer than others. You got some cowards. You got some that just grab."
"They get hurt that way? Just grabbing?"
Pagan smiled and shook his head in sympathy for those dogs--yes, they got hurt
that way. "Sows usually do the biting. I've seen dogs get their leg broken,
just one bite. The boars use the tusk more. A tusk is what hurt Keoki the other
When we came to pukiawe thickets, Pagan generally would lead us through the
middles. I understood why--if hunters were afraid to bushwhack, if the centers
of pukiawe thickets remained inviolate, then pigs would never be eradicated
from the national park--but fighting pukiawe was hard work. The sun climbs
quickly in the subtropics, and soon we were all sweating or lolling our
tongues. As the heat rose, so did the odor of the dogs. This pack did not smell
at all like domestic dogs. They smelled gamy and half-wild, like the feral
animals they were hunting.
Moku, the rawboned one-year-old, was a frolicker in tall grass. Whenever we
came to a vale of it, he set off bounding, sometimes causing a chain reaction
among the others, who thought he was onto something. Harry Pagan would watch
Moku's false alarms expressionlessly and then smile a small, skeptical smile.
Moku, it seemed to me, had little future as a hunter.
Hana did not seem promising material either, and in this view Casey Baldwin
concurred. "Hana's just a carpet," Baldwin complained. Hana malingered, as
usual, hanging back with us human beings. "That dog was meant to be in the
bathroom, to wipe your feet on." Harry Pagan, always the defender of young
dogs, was more charitable. "He's still learning. Some take a while."
Paele, the tracker, was all business. Shy, the dog with heartworm, was diligent
enough, but after an hour or two in the sun his malady began to slow him. "He's
good for just so long," Pagan said.
Our luck with pigs was poor, and Pagan apologized. The trouble was lunar, he
"When we got a big moon, the pigs they travel, they travel. They move all night
and sleep during the day. Without no moon, the pigs they sleep at night. When
the big moon, you see a whole lot of sign, and you keep following, following."
The pigs were skinny up here in the dry forest of Mauna Loa, he said. Pigs
liked it better in the 'Ola'a rain forest. They liked the cool, and the mud,
and the hapu'u, and 'Ola'a pigs tasted better. Pagan usually smoked his pig, or
made it into sausage. He promised to take me to the 'Ola'a rain forest and show
me some real pig hunting.
"You should have been here in July, when we were hunting in Napau," Pagan said.
"If you were here in July, you'd need lots of notebooks. Forty-six pigs in
twenty-one days. Camping out, drinking warm beer. No ice."
The Napau Unit, it happened, was where Kilauea was currently erupting. Recently
the volcano had been going off every thirteen days or so, sending up
incandescent thousand-foot fountains of lava, building a new cone at the place
designated "O-vent," turning the night sky red. Today, as we rested in Mauna
Loa's 'shade, O-vent was due for its twenty-fifth eruption in the series. Two
eruptions ago, in that time of phenomenal hunting luck and warm beer, the
hunters had been out after pigs when the volcano began to rumble. They heard
the roar, like a jet engine in an interminable takeoff. They looked up to see
cinders everywhere coming down from the sky. The hunting was too good to break
off. They killed eight more pigs before discretion won out and they retreated
from the volcano.
Our rest over, we plunged into another thicket of pukiawe. When we came out on
the other side, Harry saw a farther pukiawe thicket, and we plunged into
Pukiawe, in the days of Hawaiian royalty, was the great equalizer. If a chief
wished to lift his own kapu, temporarily suspending his untouchability in order
to rub shoulders with commoners, he shut himself up in a smokehouse and cured
himself over a smudge fire of pukiawe. Bushwhacking through the pukiawe now,
sweaty and itchy, our pant legs burnished by the hides of sun-heated half-wild
mongrels and slavered on by tongues, our shirts sappy and dirty and prickly
with burrs, we had the common touch already. The pukiawe wasn't necessary.
By eleven in the morning the dogs had begun to drag. Several times Baldwin,
coming up behind Paele, would shift his rifle, grab Paele by the scruff, and
pitch the tracker forward. No disrespect was intended. Paele seemed grateful
for these jet-assisted boosts onward into the fray.
We came to a sand of koas, and the dogs detoured inside to pant in the shade.
At the edge of the grove were the remains of a pig killed on a previous hunt. A
black, tusked head lay in the center of a dark and greasy circle on the grass.
The smell was very high. I found the dead pig disquieting, like the pig that
gave the tide to Lord of the Flies. One of the dogs sniffed and prepared to
roll in it. Pagan barked a guttural warning, and the dog drew back instantly.
It pretended it had never really been interested in rolling, and trotted on
into the shade.
When we reached the road again and the hunt was done, we had encountered no
pigs. Pagan and I waited in the shade with the dogs while Baldwin walked down
the road to fetch the truck. Moku sat between Pagan's legs and licked his face.
The hunter accepted this for a while and then began to wrestle with Moku's
jaws, holding them open while the dog squirmed. When Pagan released the jaws,
Moku came back for more.
Pagan told me of a precocious puppy owned by a friend of his on the Kona coast,
a puppy just ten months old and already covered with battle scars. A dog that
aggressive was unusual. He spoke of Jim, one of the better trackers in the Park
Service pack. As soon as Jim found a pig, he lost interest. He was a detective,
not a warrior. While the other dogs cornered and fought the pig, Jim was off
looking for another. "That was my dog," Pagan said. "I give him to the park.
Too much noise, nighttime. Just want to go hunt." Harry spoke of hounds. Baying
dogs were no good for this sort of work, he said. "You bring hounds here, no
telling where the pig would stop. As long as he hears the hounds behind him,
he's gonna keep running." Some sort of cross-hound was an interesting idea,
Pagan thought. He spoke of the Electric Pig.
"That pig is so smart, you know? She has experience with people. On a transect
one time, we saw her with three babies. On different hunts we managed to get
all her babies. I think right now she doesn't have anything to look forward to.
She doesn't have to worry about her babies. She can move out, she knows the
terrain, she can hear the dogs. She won't stick around."
In the war against the pigs, as in most wars, the generals speak a different
language from that of the troops. "We achieved about fifty percent removal in
mesic forest--medium-wetness forest, like on Mauna Loa Strip Road--in six
months, which is better than you need to extinct the population in a three-year
period, if our models and densities are about right," C. P. Stone told me.
Chuck Stone is the officer in charge of research for the pig-control program.
Sitting at his desk, shelves of reports and bulletins and monographs behind
him, he recited, off the top of his head, the figures on the enemy: The average
age of the pigs caught was sixteen months, the average weight sixty-eight
pounds. The oldest pig taken so far had been seven, and at that age its teeth
were almost gone.
Most of the pigs taken in Volcanoes Park were of the dark phenotype, but
occasionally the hunters, or a trap, turned up a pig with Polynesian
characteristics--the straight ears, the long snout, the woolly undercoat.
Stone had just returned from an emergency meeting in Kipahulu Valley, on the
island of Maui, where feral pigs were on an offensive into new territory. The
Maui pigs were closer to domestic stock, with more red and brindled
black-and-white in them. In Volcanoes Park pigs, Stone said, the parasite load
varied with the habitat. The pigs up in the music forest of Mauna Loa were
generally quite clean. The pigs in the drier, more stressful Puhimau Unit were
often loaded. Pigs could accommodate a lot of internal company, and some
Puhimau pigs, when you opened them up, just crawled.
Stone told me that the first method tried against the pigs of Volcanoes Park
had been box traps, which were all the rage against feral pigs in Australia and
California. "We had really good luck with that," he said. "We took quite a few
pigs fast, and we thought, 'Boy, we're really home free.' It only lasted a
couple of weeks, and then the numbers of pigs caught started going down. We now
think we were just creaming off some of the younger and more naive animals."
Since then, he said, the pig-fighters have tried snaring, with some success.
They once tried netting, with no success at all. Stone has given some thought
to poison but doubts that that measure would prove economical. A few radical
pig-detesters on Hawaii Island have contemplated introducing hog cholera and
pseudorabies, but Stone has never favored such extreme measures. By far the
best method to date, he said, has been hunters and dogs.
"The average success has been a pig every day's hunt. Lately we haven't been
doing that well in areas where we have fewer pigs. With these last pigs we're
going to have to get more inventive, as we did with goats."
My thoughts of late had turned Darwinian. I remembered the Electric Pig. "Has
it ever crossed your mind that you might be producing a superpig out there?" I
"Sure. That's what they've done with pheasants on the mainland, to a certain
degree. All the pheasants that haven't flown before the gun are selected for,
and you've got a lot more running pheasants. The same thing with some of the
quail. And it's happened here, too, with our goat program. A lot of the
surviving goats in this park are the black ones, the ones that dive down into
the cracks as soon as they hear the helicopter. We're going to get something
like that with pigs."
"But the difference with pigs," I suggested, "is that the thing you're molding
is intelligence. A pig is an unusually intelligent animal, no?"
"Sure. Psychological tests put them well ahead of dogs. "
"You might be producing a pig that's able to handle any contingency?"
"Perhaps. What we're hoping, of course, is that by fencing areas, and doing a
wipe-out in each area, we're preventing the pigs from passing those genes
At 4:30 in the morning, a fragrant pre-dawn, the hunters assembled, joking
sleepily and complaining, outside the pig-control office. Harry Pagan handed
out headlamps and tested his walkie-talkie. We were headed for the Puhimau Unit
in pursuit of the Electric Pig.
"You got rounds for the carbine?" Bobby Mattos asked.
"We got two clips over there, " Pagan answered. "What a beautiful morning--to
be in bed."
Pagan drove the Scout down to the kennel, and Bobby Mattos drove the pickup.
The dogs were eager, whining and jumping up against the cages, the mesh
thrashing in the darkness. Pagan, buckling Shy to his collar on the Scout,
turned his face away as Shy tried to lick. He finished buckling by feel. I
stood alongside Pat Finnegan, one of the hunters, and together we leashed dogs
to the side panel of the truck. Finnegan was thinking about our quarry. "They
think it's more important to get her out than the others," he said. "I don't
know why. I'm tired of chasing her, really."
Pagan, Casey Baldwin, six dogs, and I began the hunt by walking the Puhimau
Unit's southern fence. Bobby Mattos, Pat Finnegan, and their six dogs entered
Puhimau from the other side and bushwhacked cross-country toward us. Andy
Kikuta, the radio man, stationed himself on a dirt road that bordered the unit
at right angles to our fenceline, and with a hand-held antenna he monitored the
The dawn came on quickly, and we never really needed the headlamps. The steeply
ascendant, sparsely foliated branches of the ohia were lovely against the
lightening sky. Ohia branches beseech heaven in a way that has always made me
think of Judith Anderson in Sandra, and the old Hawaiians saw it more or less
the same way--as a woman dancing the hula.
The light came up, color entered the world, and we could make out the scarlet
of the ohia blossoms. The blossoms made the only points of warm color in a
landscape from the cool end of the spectrum, hot spots in a xerophytic
vegetation of drab olives and greens. In the old days the flowers of the ohia
were sacred to Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. The reason, I would bet, is that
each circle of long, scarlet stamens looks so much like lava fountaining. Each
blossom is a little eruption.
Uluhe ferns grew everywhere, and the dogs floundered through. Sometimes the
springy mats of ferns, like trampolines, refused to let the dogs down to earth;
other times the mats let the dogs down hard.
"See the noise they make?" Pagan asked. He shook his head. "Pigs have tunnels
underneath. Once a pig gets running in those tunnels, dogs can't stop him."
Mo'o, a pit bull with extraordinary vertical leap, was hunting in Pagan's pack
today. This morning Mo'o was given to jumping the fence and hunting on the
wrong side. Once, on impulse, from a dead standstill he cleared the
thirty-two-inch fence with ease. Pagan looked back at me to see if I'd seen.
"Mo'o is one of our acrobats," he said.
Mo'o is a grabber who has a long acquaintance with Pagan's sewing needle. He
sometimes appears all slashed and bleeding from private wars of his own.
Finding a pig by himself, he leaps in without bothering to bark for assistance.
In Hawaiian, mo'o means "lizard, dragon," or "water spirit," or "young, as of
pigs and dogs," or "brindled." Brindled dogs were favored as sacrifices to the
water spirits. This was before pit bulls, of course, back in the days when
Hawaii's dogs were vegetarian. It would have been impolitic to sacrifice a dog
with the temperament of this particular Mo'o. Mo'o was brindled, all right, but
sent on to the next world he would cheerfully have gone for the water spirits'
At intervals Pagan would stop to confer by walkie-talkie with Andy Kikuta. He
would inform Kikuta of our approximate position along the fence, and Kikuta
would in turn give the Electric Pig's coordinates in relation to us. We were
closing in on her, Pagan's dogs from one side, Bobby Mattos's dogs from the
Once, while speaking on the walkie-talkie, Pagan crouched and with an epee of
swordgrass flicked leaf fragments from the twin clefts of a hoofprint. Until he
cleaned it up, the print had been invisible to me. Another time, while
listening to Kikuta give the new coordinates for the Electric Pig, Pagan
pointed wordlessly to a spot low on the trunk of a small ohia, a place where
the wood was debarked and worn smooth. A pig had rubbed itself there, Pagan
whispered. Inside the smooth zone I saw the deep scratch of a tusk.
Pagan signed off and returned the walkie-talkie to his belt. We had the
Electric Pig where we wanted her, he announced. We were driving her straight
toward Bobby Mattos and his dogs.
Passing a seedling shrub, Pagan uprooted it. "'Akia," he said. "They used this
to make rope." Handing me one end, he invited me to pull and see how strong it
was. It was strong indeed. I had read that the root and bark of 'akia were
poisonous, the hemlock of old Hawaii. "This is to keep you alive," the Hawaiian
who presented the bowl was supposed to have recited, ironically. Rough humor,
but welcome, perhaps, like that salutation Socrates himself offered before
downing his last drink.
I thought of the Electric Pig. She was in at least as tough a spot as
Socrates'. I found myself wondering what would happen to a pig who took
Hawaiian hemlock. Nothing, probably, considering the gastric prowess of pigs.
We were nearly to the dirt road. Kikuta and his radio antenna were just fifty
yards away, through thick ohia, and Bobby Mattos was closing in to our left. We
heard Mattos's dogs jump the Electric Pig. Our own dogs vanished in that
direction. We ran toward the sound ourselves, but after seventy yards or so the
barking and crashing of brush was coming from too many quarters, and we stopped
and waited. The walkie-talkie crackled, and Mattos came on to inform us that
his dogs had failed to stop the pig.
We sat in the shade of the ohia trees, temporarily defeated, waiting for the
dogs to reassemble. After a time the brush parted and Kikuta emerged, carrying
his antenna by the pistol grip. He gestured with the antenna toward the forest
behind us. The pig had circled around that way, he said. He and Pagan exchanged
"That pig sending us to the cleaner, boy," Pagan said.
"And not so big, either," Kikuta said. "Sixty pounds."
"That size can run. She's got her plan all down already. 'If they hit me from
the front, break this way one hundred yards, then cut left.'"
We heard a rushing from the brush. "One dog coming?" Pagan asked.
"Yes," Kikuta answered.
Pagan listened hard. "Mo'o," he predicted, from the sound of the dog's
breathing. Half a minute later Mo'o emerged from the brush.
Five minutes after Mo'o, Bobby Mattos emerged, sweat shining on his forehead,
and right behind him was Pat Finnegan. Pagan took a look at Mattos's face.
"Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. No get mad. No get mad."
Mattos cursed the pig.
In the quest for the Electric Pig, Harry Pagan plays Starbuck to Bobby Mattos's
Pat Finnegan joined the rest of us where we sat in the shade, but Mattos would
not sit. "Ten meters, the bark, from me to you," Mattos told Pagan. The
Electric Pig had been that close.
"I felt stupid," Finnegan said. "I was running toward the first bark when I
heard the second bark way down there."
"Skid marks," said Mattos. He imitated, perfectly, the sound of a car squealing
through a skid and then accelerating at the far end. "It looks like one place
they try to grab her. Skid marks--bust-up, spin-around kind. What is this, my
fifth time I hit her?"
The dogs Shy and Gus showed up, their tongues hanging, and they plopped in the
shade. They had been hunting with Mattos's group today. "Can you tell us where
the Electric Pig is?" Casey Baldwin asked. Neither dog seemed to have any
The other dogs straggled in. Hana was among the first, and he immediately set
to digging a hole for himself in the shade. Hana puts vastly more energy into
making himself comfortable during rest stops than he puts into pig-hunting in
the intervals between.
"As long as we take Hana, we always have fresh sign," Pagan said. "And hana in
Hawaiian means 'work.'" He laughed at the irony. Baldwin, reaching out, made
pig tracks with his knuckles in Hana's fresh black dirt. His tracks were good
imitations. They would have fooled me, at least.
When the last of the dogs was accounted for, we returned to the hunt, working
back in the direction we had come. Discarding any semblance of fair play, we
began tracking the pig directly by radio. Andy Kikuta accompanied us, holding
the antenna aloft to take a reading from time to time. The original purpose of
the radio-collar--to study the behavior of pigs when flushed by dogs--had been
forgotten. Casey Baldwin, whom I was following, grumbled a little. This was
unsporting, he said. It made no sense to chase one pig this way, when five or
six others still held out in the Puhimau Unit.
We were drawing close to the Electric Pig, and I had a strong intuition that
this time we would get her. My feelings were mixed; I had developed
considerable admiration for this pig. Suddenly her radio signal ceased.
Kikuta cast about for it without success. This had never happened before, and
Kikuta looked puzzled. "It must be the terrain," he said. "She must be down in
a puka somewhere."
Climbing a small ohia and getting no signal, he tried a taller tree. I lay on
my back, folding my hands behind my head, and watched him climb. Kikuta looked
good up there, his legs scissoring a crotch twenty feet high, with bright
clouds moving above him. He pointed the antenna in one direction, then another.
We listened for the beep. No sound came but the breeze in the crowns of the
ohias. Perhaps the Electric Pig was still down in a puka--down in a hole.
Perhaps this Einstein of pigs had figured a way to avoid human radar
Harry Pagan, taking a plastic quart bottle from his pack, raised it high and
poured a thin stream for the dogs. Instantly they convened under it. Today's
hunt was over, I realized. This tipping of the bottle was a gesture of
concession to the Electric Pig. She would live to root again, at least until
The dogs always behave for Pagan, and not one growled or shoved in the slender
waterfall from the bottle. They made a pyramid of dusty hides and lapping
tongues, and I thought, oddly, of that statue of the Marines raising the flag
on Iwo Jima. This was dog sculpture. Pagan cocked his head to study the lines.
For an instant the stream would spatter off a dog's forehead, and then that dog
would reposition itself. Nothing was wasted; tongues intercepted it all.
"And not a drop hits the ground," I said to Pagan.
He smiled in what I took to be agreement, though I was not certain he was
really listening. He emptied the first bottle and started a second, smiling his
secret smile of pure love for dogs. Toward the end he remembered to save a
swallow for himself.
Copyright © 1985 by Kenneth Brower. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; August, 1985; "The Pig War"; Volume 256, No. 2;