Tonga Quarantine Officials On The Lookout For ‘Fugitive’ Mongooses

Pair hitched a rise in a shipping container from Fiji

By Caroline Manu-Moli

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 27, 2016) – A hunt is on for two fugitive mongooses – among six mongooses that hitched a ride from Fiji to Tonga inside a shipping container that was opened on June 8 at Pahu in Nuku’alofa.

The two missing furry critters are wanted “dead or alive” by Tonga's Quarantine Department and the Invasive Species Department of the Ministry of Environment.

A person who saw a mongoose in the Pacific Timber and Hardware yard at first thought it was a big rat, and said, “Then I saw it was a big fat mongoose with a long tail and I just dropped everything and ran!”

The mongooses were last sighted on June 21 by residents in the Kolofo'ou area. A group of boys called the Police Station that they had seen a mongoose sniffing around their 'umu at the Leger family property, behind the PTH store, along Railway Road in Nuku'alofa.

Now a top priority “Operation for Mongoose Eradication in Tonga” is underway. An invasive alien species specialist, Steve Cranwell, arrived from Fiji last week to help Tongan authorities track down and trap the two escapees.

“Tonga does not have mongoose and does not need mongoose. The issue is to eradicate the introduction before it becomes established,” Steve told Matangi Tonga Online on Saturday, while setting traps at Pahu with ministry staff.

Tonga Quarantine officer, Graham Mala'efo'ou, said that he believed that a container of paint supplies from Fiji was opened without inspection at the Pacific Timber and Hardware's store in Kolofo'ou on Wednesday morning June 8.

Quarantine learned later that six mongooses were found inside: two were found dead, one more was killed by PTH staff and another was poisoned in a trap placed outside the yard, but two escaped into the area. The timber yard is on the Railway Road side behind the hardware store.

Graham expressed disappointment that “there is a communication breakdown with importers not following proper procedures. They could have reported to our office right away when they saw the mongooses and we could have come and closed the container and killed them right there, but instead they tried to control the problem on their own.”

“It was only brought to our attention later by a customer,” said Graham, “but when we arrived the mongoose had already escaped.”

Special traps

Steve, an invasive species programme manager from Birdlife International in Fiji, has brought in special traps designed for catching mongoose. Some 22 traps have been placed 100-200 metres apart in likely habitat with vegetation cover where mongoose like to hide and seek refuge with no disturbance. Traps are maintained with the mongoose's favourite food as bait - an egg, a piece of chicken or fish.

Mongoose eat native wildlife, birds and chicken. “Chickens will soon disappear if mongoose are established here in Tongatapu,” said Steve, They are also a danger to people's health as they can carry and spread diseases such as leptospirosis and rabies.

Invasive Species Coordinator of Tonga, Viliami Hakaumotu said their department has given priority to the “Operation for Mongoose Eradication in Tonga” and he thanked donors for funding the search, including SPREP of Samoa, Birdlife International of Fiji, and Island Conservation of U.S.A.

Meanwhile, the manager of Pacific Timber & Hardware Store, Shalvin Nadan, did not want to make any comment on the arrival of the mongoose, or about instructions given to staff.

Fiji

Mongoose were introduced to Fiji. In 1883, sugar planters imported the small Indian mongoose from Jamaica to four Hawaiian islands and to the Fijian island of Viti Levu where they became well established.

Steve said that in Fiji, mongoose is implicated in the extinction of some of the Ground Rail birds.

“The theory was that mongooses would be a predator of rats because rats were a problem to the sugarcane. So the mongoose were to control the rat population but this did not work because mongoose are only active during the day and sleep at night and rats were only active during the night, so they never met,” he said.

Tonga Quarantine asks the public to report any sightings of the mongoose immediately to the Quarantine Department telephone 24257, Graham Mala'efo'ou - 8403820 or Viliami Hakaumotu 7742716.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
Copyright © 2016 Matangi Tonga. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment