'It's A Nightmare': Feral Pig Population Explosion Rattles East Honolulu Neighborhood – Honolulu Civil Beat


Aina Haina, an affluent residential neighborhood on Oahu’s southeastern shore, wedged between Waialae/Kahala and Hawaii Kai, is trying to fend off an invasion of pigs.

Residents of single-family homes, many on sloping hills overlooking the Pacific, are reporting less desirable views these days: colonies of feral pigs have moved down from the mountain forests into residential neighborhoods, where they are rooting in people’s yards and destroying landscaping, bellowing, snorting and even screaming in the night, menacing residents, depositing foul-smelling excrement, scavenging for food in trash cans and multiplying like crazy.

Pigs, both domesticated and wild, have played a unique role in local cultural traditions ever since they first accompanied Polynesian explorers to the islands. Larger varieties were later imported by British explorers. Pig meat is the basis for many island food specialties such as kalua pork. Feral pigs remain an important source of food for many families.

But feral pigs have never been seen before in these numbers in places like Aina Haina, one of many communities in Hawaii where residential development presses deep into valleys surrounded by steep forested mountains.

Wild pigs walk along a fence on Mona Street near an apparent feeding station in Aina Haina. Courtesy: Craig Fitzgerald

Growing Problem

Oceanographer James Potemra, who lives on Kukui Place near Hawaii Loa ridge, said that in the past, he and his family would see one pig each year roaming free, but now they come in groups.

“The issue has gotten so bad I usually see at least four,” he told officials in March, adding that the pigs have destroyed the hillside behind several homes on his street. An elderly woman in his neighborhood was injured recently when a pig charged at her and she fell down a slope, he said.

“It’s a nightmare,” said dentist Lia Domenici-Bly, who lives on Mona Street, a short way above Wailupe Community Park, noting that pigs carry contagious diseases and can infect the water supply. She said that she has seen as many as seven to eight adult pigs with piglets on her street, leaving garbage and large amounts of excrement in their wake, drawn to a homeless encampment near her house where she said they are being fed.

“This is an emergency,” she told officials in June. “Something needs to be done, like yesterday.”

Residents who have lived there since the 1960s say the first pigs appeared in the neighborhood around 2016, but their numbers began to surge during the coronavirus pandemic, when people who were homebound started to feed them mangoes and kitchen leftovers.

“At first it was fun,” Aina Haina resident Craig Fitzgerald recalled. “And then our neighbors started to feed them. They multiplied so fast. The neighborhood realized that this was not a great idea. Most people stopped but some did not.”

When well fed, pigs reproduce prodigiously. A sow can have two litters per year, producing three to 13 piglets each time.

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Aina Haina isn’t alone. Many places in the United States are reporting a similar surge in porcine activity, particularly in locations where the animals have no natural predators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported there are now some 6 million feral pigs in 35 states.

“We need to get people to stop feeding the animals as it is causing other damage.” — Neighborhood board vice chair Steve Lipscomb

In Hawaii, increasing numbers of swine sightings also have been reported in other communities, including Manoa, Kaneohe and Haaula.

The same thing is going on overseas. Wild boars are entering Rome through nature preserves, according to The Washington Post, and have even encroached on the Vatican. Concerns that the animals are spreading African swine fever has caused China to ban importing Italian pork.

What is happening in Aina Haina “is not an isolated incident; it happens all over the place,” said Jason Misaki, Oahu wildlife program manager for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, part of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Don’t Feed The Pigs

But the conflict between suburban life and wildlife is particularly stark in Aina Haina, where city-dwelling residents have little knowledge or understanding of problems more common to rural areas.

Residents there reached out for help via the Kuliouou/Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board, which includes the Aina Haina neighborhood. On Thursday, that board voted in support of a resolution asking city and state officials to make it illegal to feed feral pigs and to investigate whether changes in hunting rules and regulations would make it easier for hunters to cull the herds.

The resolution passed, with seven yes votes and three abstentions, after a more controversial provision asking for an investigation into pig contraception was removed.

The resolution was drafted by Steve Lipscomb, the board’s vice chair, who said he learned of the problem from people who live in his district. “We decided to call attention to this issue because it is important,” he said.

To Lipscomb and other Aina Haina residents, the true cause of the problem is human conduct.

“We need to get people to stop feeding the animals as it is causing other damage,” Lipscomb said. “They think ‘Oh, this poor animal needs my help,’ but they don’t consider the second- and third-order effects. Their simple act of kindness is having an effect on other people that they don’t recognize.”

Moreover, he said, some people who are feeding pigs develop an emotional attachment to them. Misaki also said he has heard of incidents where humans get angry when told to stop the feedings, causing tensions to rise within neighborhoods.

“It’s an unfortunate thing, it’s definitely not a good thing,” Misaki said. “People need to be respectful of their neighbors, they have got to be good neighbors.”

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Despite the pleas by others, some Aina Haina residents continue to feed the pigs, many residents said, and some even come from elsewhere to do it.

On Thursday, for example, a blue sedan was parked on Mona Street, its engine running but no driver in sight. A supersized partially opened bag of cat food rested in the open trunk. Several paper plates of cat food were strewn on the ground around the car and on the edge of the road, freely available to feral animals.

feral pigs aina haina
A car with cat food in the trunk and paper plates out to apparently feed feral animals in the area. Kirstin Downey/Civil Beat/2022

Several area residents said the driver often sits in the car, accompanied inside by wild pigs and feral cats.

There is no state law against feeding pigs, Misaki said.

The Hawaiian Humane Society, an animal advocacy organization, however, recommends against it outside of population management programs, Humane Society official Stephanie Kendrick said in an email.

There are no easy solutions, Misaki said, adding that options such as hunting the pigs, trapping them or building fences to keep them out all have disadvantages.

The pigs are cute when they are small, but then they grow up to 200 pounds, and some become increasingly aggressive, particularly if they believe their own offspring are at risk.

They can be dangerous. In the past, wild pig attacks were rare and occurred only in rural areas. A 2013 study found that these attacks can be unprovoked and typically involve animals that are wounded or protecting their young. Injuries to humans can be “minor to fatal,” the study found.

The Problem With Pigs

In 2019, a 59-year-old Texas woman was killed in what officials said appeared to be an unprovoked assault by a group of pigs. The bite marks on her body were of varying sizes, suggesting it was a coordinated attack.

“They are wild animals … and shouldn’t be approached when they are around,” Misaki said.

Feral pigs are predominantly nocturnal and make their first appearance as the heat of the day dissipates, residents said.

The pigs also eat neighborhood plants, denuding the vegetation, damaging the watershed, contributing to the spread of invasive species and causing erosion.

“They eat everything up; they are rooting,” said Clarissa Burkert, who chairs the neighborhood board. “Feral pigs are very destructive.”

Erosion is already a serious concern in Aina Haina where some homes have slipped on the unstable soil and been condemned as uninhabitable. The U.S. Geological Survey has declared the area landslide-prone. A large piece of land in the upper reaches of the valley is owned by the city because of such erosion. The site is now overgrown and has become a magnet for pig activity.

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Pigs are highly intelligent and resourceful. Fitzgerald, who lives on Mona Street, said he built a $500 fence to try to keep them out, but that doesn’t always stop them. “They’re relentless; they find pukas in the fence and they keep digging till they get in,” he said.

A 200-pound boar tried to enter his backyard at daybreak last week, he said, causing his dogs to bark wildly at the intrusion. Fitzgerald yelled at the boar, but the animal was unfazed. Finally Fitzgerald hit it with a rock to get it to leave.

'It's A Nightmare': Feral Pig Population Explosion Rattles East Honolulu Neighborhood - Honolulu Civil Beat
Feral pigs hassle a family dog in upper Aina Haina. Courtesy: Craig Fitzgerald

All this meat on the hoof would ordinarily be appealing to pig-hunters, but, so far, that hasn’t happened. DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife regulates hunting in Hawaii. There are two state-owned hunting areas near Aina Haina, but residents and hunters said entry points are hard to access and hunting is limited to weekends.

Also, few of the island’s hunters live in or hunt in eastern Oahu.

“There are statistically less hunters because of the cost of living,” said pig-hunter Kyle Kettle, who lives in Aiea. “People who are hunting them for food live out in the countryside.”

Josiah Jury, a former Oahu game commissioner, said the state could offer special-use permits that would give hunters more and better access to opportunities there.

“We try to reduce the problems with pigs but the state is the largest landowner,” he said.

Aina Haina residents also have mixed feelings about hunters. Hikers and hunters often come into conflict on area trails. Clashes have occurred between hunting dogs and domestic pets, and hunting dogs have occasionally attacked hikers, Aina Haina residents say.

Last year the neighborhood board considered but ultimately rejected a resolution to ban pig-hunting on the Wailupe and Kuliouou hiking trails because of these attacks.

“I know families that don’t hike anymore because they are too afraid of running across dangerous dogs,” said Jeannine Johnson, who backed the resolution.

Fitzgerald, on the other hand, fears for his 8-year-old son, who encountered a wild pig on the hillside behind the family home last week.

Residents are also disturbed by the way some pig hunters kill their prey, including by using dogs to track and corner them and then stabbing the pigs to death.

“The pigs scream like children,” Fitzgerald said, adding that pig hunters once killed an animal in his yard in front of his neighbor’s three young daughters, “which is not cool.”

Trapping may be an option, said Misaki. A new state-federal program to study how best to trap feral pigs has started on Windward Oahu, and it could be expanded to other parts of the island if more money was made available, he said.

“Our limit is always funding,” he said.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>