–Published in The Honolulu Weekly on February 16, 2011–



The Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee wants YOU to embrace the Hawaiian hoary bat as your official state land mammal. Granted, it’s not as cute and cuddly as the monk seal, our current state animal, but here in Hawaii the pickings are slim. So slim, in fact, that the Hawaiian hoary bat is the only candidate for this empty position because it is the state’s only endemic land animal.

“This is not a new idea,” explains Republican State Sen., Sam Slom, creator of Senate Bill 878 on Hawaiian hoary bats. “We’ve been trying to get this [the designation of a state animal] changed for three years, but the monk seal has better publicity. It’s hard to compete with those cute little fins and big, brown eyes.”

However, Slom and hoary bat fans (think Batman fanatics and vampire enthusiasts) are in luck because last week SB 878 received a unanimous thumbs up in a committee vote.

Both the Hawaiian hoary bat and the monk seal are endemic to Hawaii–in fact, they are the only two native mammals on the island–but only one of them can truly be considered a land mammal, says Sen. Slom. Although a monk seal is a mammal, it’s a special type of mammal called a pinniped, which means that it’s fin-footed and semi-aquatic.

The Hawiian hoary bat, on the other hand, roosts in the tops of trees in both wet and dry forests throughout the Islands. Its name comes from the tops of its ears, which are tinged with white fur, giving the bat a frosted, or “hoary” look.

Most importantly, the Hawaiian hoary bat is an endangered species. Thus, making it our state land mammal would raise awareness about the plight of these little creatures and help protect their existence. Although the largest population of Hawaiian hoary bats appears to be on the Big Island, their obscure habitat and solitary nature make it difficult for ornithologists to definitively estimate their population size. But one thing’s for sure–there are more hoary bats in Hawaii than there are Republicans in the State Legislature.