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Hawaiʻi County’s new land management workers eat constantly on the job: They are goats

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Goats provide land management at county properties purchased with preservation funds. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now

Barechested and shaka throwing Mark Crivello turns heads as he travels along tourist drag Aliʻi Drive in a red truck pulling a rickety trailer filled with about 70 hungry goats.

They are headed to two Hawai’i County-owned preservation properties — culturally sensitive La’aloa and Puapuaʻa Point in downtown Kailua-Kona — to provide land management.

The goats’ work is simple: eat, and eat some more. Doing their business also helps.

The county has contracted the work with Crivello, a fourth generation Big Island resident who founded and operates 3C Goat Grazing. His client list has included the Hawaiʻi National Guard.

“At first everyone thought I was crazy,” the 44-year-old of Portuguese descent said. “But I’m doing it!”

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Known now as “Uncle Mark” to his friends and family, Crivello spends his days raising, chasing and hauling his herd of 400-plus goats to various places around the island to be a part of a sustainable, organic method to manage and preserve land.

In downtown Kona, he has a $15,000 contract with the county to clear about 20 acres of land at La’aloa, on the mauka (mountain) side of Aliʻi Drive. The site includes several heiaus (Hawaiian temples) and other historic sites.

  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, and his apprentice Isaiah Bannister (left) believe they are promoting a symbiotic relationships in nature. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, has a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, has a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • 3C Goat Grazing has a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, bottle feeds some of his goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello drives his goats to work sites in a trailer pulled by a red truck. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, has a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, and his apprentice Isaiah Bannister (back) take care of a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, and his apprentice Isaiah Bannister (right) take care of a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, lets out his goats at a work site to eat away. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, raises and takes care of a herd of about 400 goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now
  • Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, at the end of a long day of work. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now

He also has a $13,000 contract to clear 13 acres around Puapuaʻa Point, on the makai (ocean) side of the road. It’s one of the last green spaces along the busy street of shops, restaurants, bars and offices. 

The goats eat invasive vegetation and their excretion attracts the dung beetle, which plays an important role in soil health and the survival of the endangered ʻAlalā, or Hawaiian crow, owls and Hoary bats. 

“It’s a full circle. It just works,” Crivello said.

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Hamana Ventura, head of the county’s Property Management Division, said the project preserving La’aloa and Puapuaʻa Point has been in the works for three years. They are among several locations on the island using open space funds to help with vegetation management and wildfire control in important archeological areas on the island. 

He said the focus is to protect locations using low impact methods so that future generations have the chance to learn about Hawaiʻi’s history hands on. 

“We don’t need graphs or diagrams to explain historic sites because we have these places,” he said. “We can see, feel and touch these places and that is important information to pass along.” 

Part of that effort is made possible by Crivello and his herd. 

Goats provide land management at county properties purchased with preservation funds. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now

That goats at La‘aloa and Puapua’a Point have been eating there for about a month. Once unseen historic sites are now being exposed.

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“We are finding evidence of more archeological features back there and may be revising and updating our studies,” Ventura said. 

But in other parts of the island, feral goats, unlike Crivello’s domesticated herd, have caused damage to the environment and cultural sites.

In Hawai’i Volcano National Park, it was found that feral goats were responsible for the destruction of areas in the park and the loss of several native plant species. Once the 15,000 goats (in the late 1970s) were basically eradicated from the area, the native plants began to thrive again.

In 2021, at Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the Department of Land and Natural Resources removed 458 feral goats that were negatively impacting cultural and natural resources. The goats were given away for free to individuals who got permits.

Eradication, which is sometimes done through castration, is what is controversial, Crivello said. 

“They should stop eradication and utilize the animals in the right places to do the right thing,” he said. 

But Crivello’s domesticated goats aren’t wild or running around willy nilly. As leader of the herd, Crivello said he understands the behavior of these animals — and for the most part they listen to him.

He puts them to work in controlled areas — with an electric fence around the perimeter of the properties — where they are helping the environment, not hurting it.

3C Goat Grazing puts up fencing to keep his goats contained at job sites. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now

“This is a misconception on the goats,” he said. “We are conservationists; and we are here to protect native plants. If there are native plants on the job site, we fence it off and keep goats from grazing around that area.”

Humana said: “Utilizing domesticated goats within a contained and monitored setting allows us to maintain and preserve lands that have been acquired through our preservation fund.”

Goats have been used over the years for land management by other agencies, including U.S. Naval Air Station Key West.

The work brings joy to Crivello, who also loves his goats, bottle feeding some of the babies and giving most of them names, including Shirly, Bono, Kalua, Bailey and Humphry.

Mark Crivello, founder of 3C Goat Grazing, bottle feeds some of his goats. Photo: Megan Moseley/For Big Island Now

Crivellos started his goat grazing company after a spiritual awakening. He had been a heavy equipment operator for years but became a goatherder after nearly dying twice — once when he was operating heavy equipment and fell into a million-gallon manure reserve and a second time from rat lungworm disease.

In the first incident, he was cleaning a manure reservoir when the land gave way and the excavator started to slide into the manure pond. He couldn’t stop the machine and he couldn’t get out. He was trapped in the cab as it started to flood with manure water.

“I couldn’t open the door or windows,” he said. “Pressure on the outside kept me trapped.”

The water was all the way up to his chest when he managed to get out. He went to the dairy barn nearby and stripped naked, washing everywhere with antibacterial soap. A doctor gave him penicillin. He said he was lucky he survived and didn’t get sick. 

But he was very sick when it took doctors about three weeks to diagnose him with rat lungworm disease, which is caused by a roundworm parasite that can be transmitted by eating contaminated food.

By the time they figured out what was wrong, Crivello said he was becoming paralyzed and in tremendous pain. He went into a coma and one night his vitals were so bad the medical staff thought he was going to die.

But the next day he woke up and said good morning to the nurse and she didn’t know how to react. Crivello said the doctor looked at him as if he was a miracle from God.

While in the hospital at 2 a.m., and in great pain with a nurse declining to give him medication, he said he turned on the TV and the 700 Club was on. Coincidentally, they were saying prayers about the Lord working on the body when you are in pain and he started to say prayers with them.

“I was screaming because the pain was hitting certain parts of my body,” he said. “I called the 700 Club from my hospital bed and they aired me crying and telling them how the prayer worked on me.”

Crivello said all the things that happened to him led to being a goatherder “because this is what the Lord wanted me to do.”

“I was a heavy equipment truck driver and got tired of destroying the land and wanted to do good for the land instead of doing things that hurt the land,” he said. “I wanted to take care of the land. I wanted to have a legacy for my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

He started the company in 2018 with 100 goats. So many times, he came close to shutting down because it’s hard work, long hours and he had no help. But he never gave up.

“Somewhere, somehow everything worked out,” he said.

Crivello has his herd divided between jobs. Some sites have 200, and others less.

At each site, he keeps tabs on the precise number of goats. At a private property site, he counted and realized four were missing. After a search, the four missing baby goats were found.

In the past, he’s worked on projects with the county at the Hilo Soccer Field and with the Hawai’i National Guard for land stewardship at Hilo Airport. He also works with private landowners.

Crivello has an apprentice, 24-year-old Isaiah Bannister, who was born and raised on the Big Island. He also has strong cultural ties to the land, believing what they are doing is promoting symbiotic relationships in nature – or pono.

“I love seeing the end result and how beautiful the property can be without herbicide or large equipment that will pollute our environment,” Crivello said. 

For more information, contact Crivello at 808-765-7774.  

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a multi-platform journalist based in Hawaiʻi. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University in journalism and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.

Find her @meganmoseleyjournalist or at www.meganmoseley.com.
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