Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Major Myna Problem

Here on the jungle island paradise of Maui, there are many amazing creatures to be seen. Unfortunately, they are almost all the wrong ones.

In the pond outside, there are cane toads, which make a very loud cacophony. at night. Cane toads (also known as giant toads or marine toads) can reach up to fifteen inches in body length, though these ones are only about a third that size. There are about forty adult toads outside, and about a quarter of a million tadpoles in the pond. Here's a toad that I photographed last night:

Now, I happen to have a soft spot for toads, and I was excited to see them. But they shouldn't be here. They were introduced to Maui in order to eat insects that were ravaging the sugar cane crop, but they have multiplied out of control. Since they are poisonous, they have no predators.

The only native mammal species to Maui is a certain bat. But I met a bold and very cute baby mongoose:

The mongooses were introduced to Maui to kill the rats that had arrived on the ships. However, instead of killing the rats, the mongooses killed the unique native birdlife.

Maui is apparently home to all kinds of extraordinary birds. But I haven't seen any of them. I've seen some sparrows and chickens, which were introduced by man. But the most common bird here by far is the myna.

The myna bird has beautiful songs and vocalizations. Still, it shouldn't be here, either. There are staggering numbers of them in Maui - they are simply everywhere. Unfortunately, the myna bird is now also spreading in Israel, after some captive birds escaped about twenty years ago. At the time, myna birds cost many thousands of shekels to purchase; now, they are everywhere, from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat.

The ecological catastrophes of invasive species were often caused by people who were overly presumptuous about meddling with the natural world. In 1890, someone decided that America would look better if all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare lived there, and released sixty starlings in Central Park. They now number 200 million and have driven native species such as purple martens and eastern bluebirds to the brink of extinction.

We need to approach the natural world with humility. God has set up the universe such that it produces tremendous biological diversity. To preserve this wealth, we must respect it. 


  1. Wouldn't a rationalist say that God gave man the ability to influence the natural world, including which species belongs where. How many men were on Maui when the wildlife ran free? Was sugar cane growing naturally in the quantities that it now grows?
    Generally, saying something is "not supposed to be here" implies that we're meddling with a predetermined plan. My garden is also "not supposed to be there." Nor are the fields around our yishuv. Where would you draw the line between natural human expansion and meddling with the universe?

    1. IMO, the specific drawing of that line will depend on context.

      However, in general, I would argue that whenever human activity causes wide scale, irreversible, and/or very lasting changes to an ecosystem that destroys the pre-existing diverisity of an ecosystem and its overall order, function, and even existence -- that is "meddling with the universe"

      Your local garden or fields around a yishuv might have some local effect but they do not endanger the overall ecosystem where they may exist in and most likely do not substantially disrupt the order of their environment.

  2. Another exotic you could add to your list, although I don't know whether it has made it to Hawaii or not: Feral rock pigeons are ubiquitous in every American city, and probably elsewhere as well. But at least they provide a nice, plentiful food source for peregrine falcons, a once endangered species that now finds homes in urban high rise buildings.

    1. We have villains to connect to that particular crime Eugene Scheifflin, may his name and memory be erased, wanted America to have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare. So he brought them in, all forty or so species. The American Acclimatization Society did much the same, bringing in European plants and animals specifically to replace native species.

      The impact of this horrible crime has been immense from the depredations of starlings to the destruction of unknown numbers of native species. It's right up there with the terrible E. Leopold Trouvelot, who introduced the gypsy moth and who should spend 13 months in Gehenom for doing so.

  3. Give up! We have already ****ed up the planet so much that the best we can do is manage it as a well-tended farm. If the mynas are filling ecological niches that used to be filled by birds that the mongooses exterminated, so be it.

  4. So the starlings thrive and the Martens don't. Its all part of the glorious Circle of Life, no? (Cue music.)

    The concern I have is that this thinking can easily be extended to Man. As in, "the Jews aren't native to America (England, Canada, France, etc.) and have no business being here. Look how many native businesses they've displaced." There's a reason why anti-semitism and environmentalism are both staples of the left, and I daresay in most cases they are the same. Scratch an environmentalist, and you will find an anti-Semite underneath. Your post explains why.

    1. Your logic seems to flow but history proves otherwise. Environmentalists tend to be very liberal. They push for open borders and lax immigration laws.

  5. I wonder if there are any authorities that extend real halachic principles from individual animals or plants to a whole species. For example, that aside from the tzaar caused to each animal, there is some additional liability for extinguishing an endemic species collectively. Or perhaps בל תשחית applies?

    Of course, from Talmud to rishonim inclusively it probably would not occur to anyone that a whole species can be easily extinguished.

    1. see the chinuch on the prohibition of oso ves beno he seems to say that the prohibition has to do with not just killing a single animal but actually annihilating an entire species

  6. Pardon me, but anti-Semitism is hardly a monopoly of the left, and my son the environmental scientist is not exactly a self-hater. Maintaining biodiversity is not just a matter of sentimentality, nor should it be regarded as merely a political issue. For some interesting answers to the question, "What is the point in preserving endangered species that have no practical use to humans, apart from their aesthetic appeal or their intellectual interest to biologists?", see the Scientific American article at

  7. No, it's not part of the glorious circle of life. It's people doing stupid s---. The difference between a garden and a disaster is "le'ovdah u'leshomra". Not just randomly screwing around without giving any thought to the consequences of one's actions.

  8. Funny, DF, a whole lot of the environmentalists I know are Jews... and Zionists, too. And that sort of "they don't belong here" talk you mentioned is much more common on the right, especially among anti-immigration activists. By the way, anti-Semitism is also a staple of the right (remember Nixon's line), they just tend to hide it better (often because they don't want to kill us, they want us to all go to Israel so Jesus can come back and kill us).
    -Dov in NJ

  9. DF,

    I am both an environmentalist and (mostly) swing to the left with regards to political issues, yet I (don't think) I am an anti-Semite. Neither are a lot of the other people, similar to me, that I have met in person or online.

    I have never found anti-semitism to be a staple of the left at all, infact it goes against all the staples of he leftist ideaology that are the reason I acossiate myself with (mostly) leftist ideas.

    There is a difference between our sociaty and the natural world. The whole point of creating a society is to get rid of the casual brutality exhibited in the natural world. Part of that is what you described above, or "social Darwinism." Both forget that the fundamental purpose of society is to advance from those "principles."


  10. Last time I checked "bds" or jstreet didnt come out of republicanville! Plenty of sick movements come from both sides of the spectrum to pick one side and say all the bad things come from their side of the line is ridiculous.

  11. I'm back after reading a Scientific American blog that confirms my idea that the best we can do is manage the planet as a well-tended farm. The point of the blog is that indigenous people know better than their conquerors how to do the managing.

  12. The myna bird, the myna bird
    The multilingual myna bird
    You'll never find a a fyna bird
    than the multilingual myna bird

  13. V'horashtem...
    Jews can certainly be called an invasive species, whether explicitly or implicitly.
    Indeed the Torah seems to support this view.
    But this particular invasion and ecosystem transformation was mandated and preapproved by G-d. This was where we were supposed to be. While one perhaps must say that there is a hashgacha to all displacements and invasions, despite their tragic aspects, in this case we must recognize that such an "invasion" can indeed be justified and right, perhaps at first only in the mind of the invader (and his G-d) but over time as the invasive species proves itself to be the greatest match for the place it lives, bringing life and flourishing not only to itself but to the land and the creatures around it.

    Maybe there are analogous stories in the natural world. At any rate, such ultimately redemptive invasions, controlled transformations, might be something we could actively bring to the world, or see as part of our divinely granted eco-dominion.

  14. You folks can't deny the fact that environmental activism has been a foil of radical left and right politics. Nazi Germany was the first state to develop and implement comprehensive environmental policies and legislation (the US national and state park system drives were limited in scope). The USSR fueled and directed a combination of peace activism with environmentalist agitation in the West, whilst turning itself and its satellite colonies into chemical toilets. The goal was simple, the Soviets couldn't keep up with the West's weapons development and manufacture or the stunning economic success of industrial capitalism.

    That being said, concern for the environment is not only laudable, but rational, and under favourable economic circumstances inevitable as a society moves through the raw stages of industrialization, builds a substantial middle class and an influential non-manufacturing base. At such a stage, care for the environment becomes an economic asset, as health, quality of life and tourism become more of a concern. One can watch this process bourgeoning in China, with growth of administrative and leisure classes. Meanwhile, the activists who are still stuck in the left-wing, Luddite, end-of-resources, Soviet era mindset, continuing to take credit and claim victories for the pro-environmental advances by the middle class, interest groups and legislators.

    What this man cannot understand is how many generations of environmental activists will refuse to get it, and will continue to attack industrial free enterprise, the only system ever to make significant strides in protecting the environment and stop their attempt to drag our economies into people-devastating low-tech "sustainability" through cub ring growth and development and planned and authoritarian- imposed energy poverty. Even a cursory look at reality will show that the worst polluters and destroyers of landscapes and wildlife are the industry-poor societies. Duh!


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