Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Maui mystery
animal gives
‘big cat’ experts paws

Authorities have been searching Maui forests for months, looking for an animal believed to be a leopard or jaguar or mountain lion or something along the more frightening "large cat" line, but have turned up neither hide nor hair of the creature. Nor whiskers nor toenails, for that matter.

In fact, after being hunted by some of the most imminent wildlife officials that could be scared up both locally and regionally, the fearsome feline appears to be largely hypothetical. Sure, residents have reported large catlike animals knocking over their garbage cans and scaring the bejesus out of their smaller pets, but there has not been a real sighting of the presumed predator yet. Which raises the question: If there is a big cat out in the wild and it's so hard to find, then it's obviously not bothering anybody, so why not leave it alone?

It reminds me of the time someone said they thought they saw a crocodile in Nuuanu Reservoir, a reservoir that nobody even swam in or anything. But people couldn't rest until the existence of the animal was confirmed, which it finally was when somebody shot the poor thing off a log while it was napping. It turned out it wasn't even an crocodile, it was a caiman, a smallish crocodile-like animal, a croc lite, if you will. It was not a danger to anything other than frogs, and small ones at that. And the slaughter of the snoozing reptile achieved nothing other than to prompt copy desk editors to come up with painfully cute headlines such as "Caiman went."

With the rumors of a mysterious large cat in residence, Maui is quickly going from being called the Valley Isle to the Weird Animal Isle. First it was to be home to Koko the "talking" gorilla. Then we learned it is overrun with formerly domesticated parrots that fly around in large squadrons bombing the landscape with weed seeds in their droppings. Now a potentially dangerous cat is roaming around.

A distinguished "big cat" expert, appropriately named Bill Van Pelt (a colleague of the equally renowned duck expert Percival Van Coot) recently hoofed it around the wilds of Maui and reported that there probably is a large cat out there. How can he be sure? He found several enormous hair balls and a cat toy the size of a bicycle hidden in some brush. Just kidding. He saw pictures of a small deer that had been killed that showed "classic big cat characteristics," which I suppose means the cat played with it for a while before leaving it on some neighbor's doorstep as a gift.

Van Pelt thinks the cat is living on tree rats, which causes me again to ask why don't we leave it the hell alone. Let it eat tree rats and, if we can teach it to catch those crazy bombardier parrots, let him eat those, too. In my book, any cat that kills large, tree-dwelling rats is considered a "good kitty."

Although Van Pelt already has returned home without seeing the cat, he did organize the installation of automatic cameras that might snap a picture of the animal as it passes by at night. I'm glad they finally found some good use for those hateful Van Cams, but how they got them in the woods of Maui, I don't know.

The expert also advised that if you come across the big cat, back up slowly. Do NOT turn and run. Yeah, right. If I see that thing, I'm going to run like hell and not go back into my room until my wife checks under the bed.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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