Natural Phenomenon: Animal Life
Because of the location of the Solomon Islands, separated from the New Guinea landmass by deep straits, only some of the animal life from New Guinea crossed to the islands included in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, and the animal life is comparatively less diverse. Pigs and dogs were introduced, and wild pigs were fairly numerous in some areas of Guadalcanal. Pigs and dogs probably first arrived with the Austronesian voyagers three thousand years ago, but other varieties were introduced during the nineteenth century, used as trade to lure recruits to the labour trade to Queensland and Fiji. The Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans) is common, presumably dating from the original Austronesian migrations or more recent Polynesian back-migrations, and the roof rat (R. rattus and R. norvegicus) is also common. Returning nineteenth-century labourers brought cats, which soon killed off some species of ground-nesting birds.
The indigenous animals are mainly nocturnal and include several kinds of opossum or phalanger (also called possum or cuscus) and bats, and a variety of species of bush rats and mice, the rarest of which is the Emperor or Mus rex which attains a length of 45.7 centimetres (18 inches) or more and it is seldom sighted today. (Flannery 2011, 129-132, 136-137, 143, 147, 229) It was once common on Guadalcanal, Choiseul and Malaita, and is preyed up by the Pacific Ground Python (Engryus (Candoia) carinatus). Cats are largely responsible for its extinction in many places. In some islands people eat opossum and rats to supplement their usual vegetable diet. There are about 140 species of birds in the Solomon Islands. Bird life is varied and includes ducks, pigeons, hornbills, parrots, cockatoos, sun birds, kingfishers, greybirds, wagtails, frigate birds, herons, eagles and hawks. Megapodes (Megapodius freycinet) lay their eggs, much sought after for eating, in tunnels in the warm sand for incubation; they often inhabit volcanic areas such as Savo Island. Golden plover and other birds 'stage' in the Solomon Islands during migrations between Siberia, Alaska, Australia and New Zealand. Indian mynas are an introduced species now found on most islands. Crocodiles are present on all of the larger islands, although during the twentieth century hunters collecting skins for export reduced their numbers in some areas. Lizards and snakes are common, but few of the snakes attain any great length-occasionally 1.8 metres-and most are non-venomous. There are many species of frogs, several of them edible; one of the latter is the largest in the world. There is a large skink believed to be unique to the Solomon Islands. Insect life flourishes with a vigour and variety typical of the tropics, and includes magnificent butterflies and moths, as well as dragonflies, crickets, mosquitoes, sandflies and white ants. Many of them, too, are edible.
The seas abound with fish of all kinds, and dugong and whales are often seen. Turtles are common and caught for their meat, and their shell is used for decoration. Bonito fishing is linked to rituals in the Eastern Solomons, and dolphin drives around Malaita provide meat and teeth for currency. Mother-of-pearl shell is used for decoration and personal ornaments. Shark-calling is practiced on several islands, and sharks are worshipped and fed pigs in sacrifice. (AR 1957-1958, 56-57, AR 1970, 97-98; SND 11 June 1976; Pikacha 2008)
- Flannery, Tim, Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific, Text, Melbourne, 2011. Details
- Pikacha, Patrick G., Wild West: Rainforests of Western Solomon Islands, Melanesian Geo Publications, 2008. Details
- Solomons News Drum, 1974-1982. Details
- British Solomon Islands Protectorate, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Annual Reports (AR), 1896-1973. Details