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 Paleozoic.
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 forest first.
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 the forest.”
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 standing 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 Galápagos 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 Galápagos 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 fewnatural 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 exclosure 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 Galápagos 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 equilibrium?”
Taylor shook his head. “The system has not begun to accommodate these organisms.”
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 loggng 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 hircus, 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 Galápagos. 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 park.
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 goats, 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 homed 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 Grater. 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 w’as 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 border.
“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 nothin’. Had to go crawling underneat’ to go get him.”
(The Sow Trail is named for a predecessor of the Electric Pig. ‘Phis 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, 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 hurt.”
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 volcano.
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 Hushed 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’ Hushing a single one. Today the plan was to reacquaint the dogs and acquaint the writer.
Harry Pagan drove, checking the dogs occasionally in his rearview mirror. Pagan is Filipino-Puerto Rican, a darkskinned 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 sew ing 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 more.”
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 blackand-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 pungence of the xeric vegetation on Mauna Loa’s middle flanks. We were 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 action .30-.30.
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. I hey 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 little.
“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 day.”
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 said.
“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 that.
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 stand 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 title 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 mesic 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 w’eeks, 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 asked.
“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 on.”
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 Electric Pig.
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 Medea, 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’ throats.
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 other.
Once, while speaking on the walkie-talkie, Pagan crouched and with an épée 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 fatalistic looks.
“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 rustling 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 Ahab.
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 idea.
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 entirely.
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 tomorrow.
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.