Date of this Version
Published in Fact Sheet 2006-3006 (January 2006) 4 pages.
Domestic cats (Felis catus) were first brought to Hawai‘i aboard sailing ships of European explorers and colonists. The job of these predators was to control mice and rats on the ships during the long voyages. As in other places, cats were taken in and adopted by the families of Hawai‘i and soon became household pets known as popoki. But cats have always been very well equipped to live and hunt on their own. On tropical archipelagos like the Hawaiian Islands where no other predatory mammals of comparable size existed, abundant and naïve prey were particularly easy game, and cats soon thrived in the wild.
Although the details of when cats first came to live in the wild remain little known, adventurers, writers, and naturalists of the day recorded some important observations. Feral cats were observed in remote wilderness around Kīlauea volcano on Hawai‘i Island as early as 1840 by explorer William Brackenridge. Mark Twain was so impressed by the great abundance of cats when he visited Honolulu in 1866 that he reported his observations in the Sacramento Union newspaper, which were later reprinted in his book Roughing It:
I saw… tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats…