- The cattle roaming Hawaii’s Big Island are a non-native species, meaning they are not indigenous to the region. Where are Hereford cattle native? How did they get to Hawaii? (Hint: They didn’t swim.)
- The Big Island’s Hereford cattle are indigenous to an even bigger island—Great Britain. The cattle breed is named after the English county to which it is native, Herefordshire.
- Hereford cattle crossed two oceans (well, one-and-a-half), and a great big continent (North America) the same way their owners did—by boat. Cattle were brought to Hawaii by British explorer George Vancouver in 1793—years before they were imported to the United States mainland in 1817. (Vancouver, cruising on up the West Coast of North America to the region that now bears his name, imported the Herefords from Mexico. Five thousand miles with a small herd of big cattle—can you imagine how bad that ship stunk?)
- In the 200 years Herefords have been in Hawaii, they have adapted to the tropical environment. What are some of examples of the cattle’s adaptations? Are the cattle’s adaptations structural or behavioral? Read through the first part of our encyclopedic entry on “adaptation” for some help.
- According to the article, Hawaii’s Herefords are slightly smaller than other cattle, and have longer legs.
- Both of these adaptations are structural, meaning they are physical characteristics.
- What are some ways cattle have impacted the Big Island’s environment?
- The cattle, a feral or wild breed, are dangerous and have put the island’s human and animal population at risk. “Set aside your conceptions of ‘cow,'” the article says, “and think about an enormously muscled 1,500 to 2,000-pound animal, with horns the size of a full-grown man, which hangs out in herds of bored and testosterone-driven bachelor males, and has no fear of humans and no qualms about charging. It makes a grizzly bear seem cuddly.”
- The cattle are a threat to the island’s delicate native vegetation. “The cattle stomp and eat the vegetation that’s had no time to evolve any protection against them, allowing other invasive species, like grasses, to take their place.”
- The loss of native producers in the island’s food web puts all other indigenous species at risk: “Without the plants, the insects and birds lose a food source.”
- Finally, the cattle even threaten Hawaii’s underwater habitats. What? “[T]he cattle’s stomping also causes erosion of the island’s edges, forcing sediment runoff down into the coral reefs.”
- What do udders have to do with ukeleles? How did the introduction of cattle influence Hawaii’s hybrid culture?
- According to the article, “In the early 1830s, Mexican vaqueros, or cowboys, were brought over to Hawaii to teach Hawaiians the skills they’d need to deal with the sudden influx of 2,000-pound horned beasts that never belonged on their islands in the first place. Known now in Hawaii as ‘paniolo,’ the Mexican vaqueros brought cowboy culture to the islands.” Because Hawaii’s cowboy culture is older than the “Old West”, it draws more on Mexican and Spanish tradition than “American” cowboy cultures of the American southwest. (“Paniolo,” in fact, is a Hawaiian variation of the word espanol, the language of the immigrant vaqueros.) Paniolo, for instance, wear vaquero-inspired chaps and hats with flower lei. Read more about paniolos here or here!
- The development of the iconic Hawaiian musical instrument, the ukelele, was influenced by Mexican, Spanish, and Portuguese music played by vaqueros and paniolos. The shape and sound of the ukelele was influenced by such instruments as the timple (developed in the Canary Islands of Spain) and the the Portuguese braguesa. Guitars were brought over with Mexican vaqueros, and Hawaiian guitarists developed their own unique genre of music—slack-key guitar. Take a listen to this lovely song, “[c]omposed to pay tribute to the vaquero who influenced Hawaiian cowboys in tunings that evolved into slack key. Try to image vaquero playing their Spanish tunes and Hawaiians trying to emulate them as the cattle settle down for the night. A Spanish-Hawaiian blend to serenade the herd.”