The government shutdown canceled our field season. A protestant pastor and a group of nuns made our evolutionary research possible.
The famous purring crickets live in Kalaupapa, which is a National Park on the island of Molokai. Kalaupapa is very difficult to access, and we had to set up a sponsor (Dr. Paul Hosten) through the NPS system and permits months in advance. Due to the shutdown, all NPS employees were banned from entering the park, even though many of them live there! Without a sponsor, we could not enter…
Let me tell you a bit more about Kalaupapa. The park was historically a prison for Hawaiians with Hanson’s disease (leprosy). People were exiled there to die beginning in the 1840s. The bacterial disease was cured with the the invention of antibiotics in the mid 1940s, but patients were not allowed to leave until 1969–most chose not to. The National Park Service manages the hundreds of historic properties, ancient ruins, thousands of grave stones, and endangered plants and animals on the islands. So, since all of the NPS staff were exiled from Kalaupapa, the only people there were the patients and some of the people caring for them including nurses and people officiated with religious institutions. There are 13 surviving patients, all of whom were cured of Hanson’s disease (leprosy) in the 40s.
At the last minute, Pastor Richard volunteered to sponsor us and host us. Richard used to work for NPS but is now in Kalaupapa as a pastor, so he wasn’t forced off the island like all of the other employees. We stayed at his church and were able to do all of our research there. While working for NPS, Richard worked to preserve hundreds of gravestones and many of the historic buildings, including the 1889 Catholic Church where Father Damien was canonized in 2009.
The Catholic Church has had a big presence in Kalaupapa since the 1840s, and there is still an Abbey there where Sister Alicia and Sister Barbara Jean live—our purring crickets live on their front lawn. They were very supportive of our research. There was also a group of nuns and priests who were visiting on a mission trip. They spent hours helping us search the lawn of the Abbey for purring crickets. We learned so much about the history of the island and about the people who live there. We were welcomed and supported by everyone there. It was a very special experience and we are so thankful that the religious community allowed us to complete our evolutionary research.