Brown Tree Snake Sighted Reported In CNMI

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Saipan wildlife control seeks to find invasive reptile

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 15, 2016) – An interagency Brown Tree Snake or BTS Rapid Response team has been deployed in response to two sightings of a brown tree snake in Dandan, the Division of Fish and Wildlife BTS Program said.

In an alert issued Thursday, the BTS program said the first sighting was reported on Jan. 2, and another sighting was reported on Jan. 8.

The sightings were reported by residents of Dandan.

Expert investigators conducted and analyzed detailed interviews with the people who reported the sightings, and deemed those reports credible, the BTS program said.

On Jan. 5, a team of six highly trained BTS searchers was deployed by the U.S. Geological Survey on Guam, to work with 13 biologists and staff of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources-Division of Fish and Wildlife and the BTS coordinator from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Sylvan Igisomar, the USFWS coordinator/biologist for the CNMI Brown Tree Snake Program, said the possible origin of these brown tree snakes is Guam. Since the sightings occurred in the village next to the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, Igisomar said it is possible the snakes made their way here via airplane.

Although they have yet to determine whether the brown tree snakes landed on the island just recently or have been here for a while, Igisomar said brown tree snakes or the eggs are often carried in construction materials like tubes or pipes.

He said the CNMI BTS program has a team that uses trained dogs to detect brown tree snakes in cargo.

As for the recent sightings in Dandan, the BTS Rapid Response team "has been establishing search transects, cutting trails, conducting intensive night searches, and setting snake traps to cover the area the snake or snakes may have reached."

The BTS program said "over 80 mouse-baited traps have been set. Searchers wearing orange safety vests are using high-powered headlamps to carefully search the ground and trees for four to five hours nightly, seven days a week. Brown tree snakes tend to move and search for prey at night and around dawn and dusk."

DFW Director Manny Pangelinan said "a brown tree snake sighting in the CNMI is serious business. We don’t take snake sightings lightly. This effort requires the people’s involvement to make sure the brown tree snake is killed and does not establish itself on Saipan. This is not just the agencies’ work — we can’t do it alone. We ask the people of Dandan to be vigilant and help in this team effort. If you see a snake, kill it and report it by calling 28-SNAKE."

DLNR Secretary Richard Seman said: "We cannot afford to have any snakes establish themselves here in the CNMI. The bird population is currently healthy which in turn provides us with a natural defense against potential invasive species such as the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle. Without our birds, perhaps more invasive species would be present on our island just like Guam where there are practically no birds."

Igisomar added, "The brown tree snake could have devastating effects not just on Saipan’s unique animals and plants, but on its economy as well, as seen in places like Guam. We are working with our partners and local government, but we also need the public’s help to make sure this doesn’t happen and Saipan remains free of brown tree snakes."

Adam Knox, a BTS expert from USGS on Guam, said: "If you see a snake approach it slowly so as not to scare it away, then strike it with a sharp object preferably decapitating it or cutting it in half. This is most easily accomplished when a snake is laying on a hard surface."

He added, "If a brown tree snake is in vegetation it may be necessary to grab it by the tail or mid-body with your hands in order to keep it from escaping, but exercise caution when attempting this and keep a safe distance from the head. Immediately kill the snake once you have it in your control by using a sharp object such as a machete or shovel tip to strike the snake."

The Rapid Response team sincerely thanks the community members of Dandan for their support and enthusiasm, and for the cooperation and kindness they have shown the search team. The USGS will remain on island coordinating the intensive rapid response through Jan. 24. DLNR-DFW will continue long-term trapping, nighttime snake searches, and bird and snake prey monitoring.

The BTS Rapid Response team urges members of the public to assist in this effort by calling the snake hotline at 28-SNAKE (287-6253) if they see a snake, or if they have seen a snake previously and did not report it at that time.

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