Movies, Monsters and a Mongoose
In pondering my path to Seacology, I thought about my first venture to a tropical island. It was a month spent on St. Croix in the Caribbean in 1977. I was working for an entertainment company training exotic animals for the movie The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster (a living legend in one of his last movies) and Michael York (a fine actor and really nice guy). Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, the sci-fi monster movie was filmed on a spectacular swath of the island privately owned by and leased from the Rockefeller family.
To bring in tigers, lions, bears, and various other exotic animals to the island was an enormous undertaking. We set up a compound in the lush forest about a quarter mile from the beach, where the weather made everyone happy. Since the property was guarded and very secluded, we frequently took the animals for long beach walks ending in a riotous swim in the bath water sea. Paradise, right?
Well, sort of. Spending one month on a small island, I had plenty of chances to explore by taking hikes, horseback rides and visiting hideaways for Key Lime pie or the local catch. One thing was conspicuously missing throughout: wildlife, other than what I brought to the island. What's up with that?
This was the beginning of my education on the fragility of island ecosystems. I soon learned that in the late 1800's, the Indian mongoose was brought to the islands to kill rats and save sugar cane plantations. It was a bust because the mongoose is diurnal and rats are nocturnal. The rat infestation continues to this day, and with no natural predators, the mongoose has become worse. They are widely considered responsible for devastating insect, bird and ground animal populations. On St. Croix alone, they've wiped out indigenous snakes while driving endemic lizards to near extinction.
Seacology works so diligently to reverse the trend toward extinction of island species. It's difficult in places like the Caribbean and Hawaii where invasive species have thrived for years. But it will never get any easier, so now is the time to address it. Seacology has made great headway with its preservation model of helping islanders with their community challenges, and in return they set aside whole tracts of island habitat to be left alone and thrive.
I'm not picking on the mongoose. They're awesome in India where their numbers are kept in check by their natural predator, the cobra. Lest I be accused of bringing yet more invasive species to St. Croix, you may be relieved to know that, when the filming was over in 1977, we removed all of our wildlife from the lovely island, including these two on the left.