Wild Hawaiian cows causing conflict in paradise

Herds of 2,000-pound beasts with horns the size of full grown men is not the typical image that comes to mind when you envision the picturesque island of Hawaii. Nor would you believe that these “beasts” do not belong to the grizzly bear or mountain lion family, but are rather cows, the wild Hawaiian cow, to be exact.

What is being done about these cows is causing animosity between native Hawaiian hunters and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). According to Hawaii Administrative Rules the DLNR considers the cattle an invasive species that are damaging the local ecosystem, and has resorted to managing their population through airborne shootings and other organized hunts. This however, does not settle well with local hunters who grew up surrounded by the cattle and consider hunting them a 200-year tradition. One hunter in particular says these cattle are a way for the isolated state to provide some of its own meat, and is what he and his eight sons rely on to survive.

Originally introduced to the island near the end of the 18th century as classic British red-and-white cows, they were placed under a hunting ban so they could survive and reproduce. However as time passed, Hawaiians were not equipped to control these animals, and they in turn escaped their enclosures, fled to the mountains, bred, and led to 25,000 wild cattle by 1846.

In the time that followed, the cattle destroyed Hawaiian settlements and began to adapt to their new surroundings. This created a unique feral breed consisting of longer legs to tromp through the undergrowth, and tough, wild instincts not typically seen in any other breed of cattle. Today, these cows contribute to some of the most dangerous hunting in the U.S. as they are known to charge at hunters before they are even spotted and very rarely fall after a single gunshot.

These risks however, are not discouraging to locals as hunting these cows is not only a traditional way of life but has also developed into a business that currently operates about 40 land hunts each year. On the other hand, the DLNR is still conducting airborne shootings and other organized hunts and fears that these non-native cows will cause permanent damage to the island’s delicate ecosystem.

With the right maintenance and the right management, one Hawaiian said he thinks there’s a place for them on the island. “They have lived in this beautiful place for more than 200 years… all of a sudden the state is saying they’re destroying everything.”

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