The Maui News

MAUI, Hawaii (March 19) – Islanders might shrug and chuckle over reports of a big cat roaming Upcountry or Makena, but mention a snake on the loose and islanders will reflexively shudder.

As in Ireland, there have never been snakes in Hawaii. The closest thing to a native island snake is a legless lizard so small it couldn’t harm anything larger than a fly.

Most islanders are well aware of the havoc caused on Guam by the brown tree snake. That alien critter hit the island, found no predators and proceeded to decimate the bird population while causing blackouts by shorting out power lines.

Several decades ago, a radio personality who was fond of staging self-promoting stunts such as running through Haleakala Crater, found himself in a maelstrom of condemnation when he smuggled in two harmless snakes from the Mainland.

He thought they would make a nice exhibit for Maui kids. He was wrong. A public that adored his other antics forcefully let him know just how much they loathed the idea of snakes on Maui. He spent days publicly apologizing.

With no known predators, snakes could easily proliferate in the islands with unimaginable consequences. That’s the main reason state and local officials will spend considerable time and money checking snake sightings.

The most recent snake alarm went off in the Wahikuli area of Lahaina. A yard worker reported seeing a gray snake about a foot long. Officials said the description fit a venomous species. A three-week search, including putting out traps baited with live mice, turned up nothing despite the best efforts of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the state Department of Agriculture and the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

You can bet residents of the area breathed a sigh of relief that was tempered by the fear that snake might still be slithering around in the bushes.

The state could be doing more than it does to prevent the introduction of alien critters and plants via airports and harbors, but it is also necessary for individuals to make sure they and their friends don’t bring in snakes or other creatures that do not belong in the islands. There’s much more involved than just revulsion.

March 20, 2006

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