Guam Makes Concerted Effort At Eradication Of Invasive Brown Tree Snake

Wildlife supervisor: Cooperative efforts of residents, local, federal agencies needed

By Chloe B Babauta

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 22, 2016) – Diane Vice, wildlife supervisor and brown tree snake control program manager at the Guam Department of Agriculture, sees a day when Guam would finally be free of brown tree snakes.

Vice addressed the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay on Thursday and said she thinks the cooperative efforts of residents, as well as local and federal agencies, can lead to an eradication of the brown tree snake on Guam.

The program, Kontra I Kulepbla, challenges people to imagine Guam without brown tree snakes.

“I think it’s a reality,” Vice said. “I’ve been working here for 20 years and I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think it was possible.”

According to Vice, there are an estimated two million brown tree snakes on Guam — the highest concentration of a snake population in the world.

“You can’t go anywhere in the world and find this many snakes,” Vice said.

Originally from the Solomon Islands, brown tree snakes were introduced to Guam accidentally after World War II by cargo ships. Over the past 30 years, the snakes have spread throughout the island and remain in high density in forested and urban habitats.

Impact

The snake has had devastating impacts on Guam’s ecology, economy and quality of life, according to Vice. It's driven 10 of Guam’s 12 native bird species to extinction, leaving only the Mariana swiftlet and the Micronesian starling, or the sali. The nocturnal predator is also responsible for declines in Guam’s lizard populations and fruit bat colonies.

According to Vice, the brown tree snake has caused up to $4.5 million in damage in just the past seven years.

The snakes have caused frequent power outages and electrical equipment damage by crawling on electrical lines.

Eradication efforts 

The Guam Department of Agriculture’s brown tree snake research and control program is working with a large number of local and federal agencies for broad-scale reduction of the species on the island. The federal agencies include the Office of Insular Affairs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, National Wildlife Research Center, and the United States Geological Survey.

Some of the most effective ways to eradicate the brown tree snake include traps which have been developed and perfected since the 1990s, hand capture, and searching with lights and repellants. USDA Wildlife Services has also been working on a system of aerial delivery of baby mice that are fed small doses of acetaminophen to lure and kill snakes.

About 10,000 snakes are killed per year by the USDA Wildlife Services at port areas on Guam, according to Vice.

Saving the ko’ko’

Vice and her team in the Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources are working to create a safe environment for the remaining Guam rails, or ko’ko’, which have been brought to extinction in the wild by the brown tree snake.

The flightless ko’ko’ is easy prey for brown tree snakes. The Guam Department of Agriculture took in the last 21 wild ko’ko’ in 1985 to give them a safe habitat, but were unable to reintroduce them into the wild due to the presence of cats.

Forty-four ko’ko’ birds are living and breeding in captivity in Cocos Island, which provides a safe area for the ko’ko’ — there are no snakes, cats or dogs, and the forest is full of native plant species.

To help provide a safe environment to reintroduce the ko’ko’ and other native birds into the wild, the people of Guam can help by spaying and neutering their pets so that there are fewer feral animals in the wild that can prey on birds, Vice said.  Residents can also help create a safer habitat by planting native plants, which are easy to grow and require less maintenance than ornamental plants found in commercial plant nurseries.

Residents can place traps around their properties and use bait, like live mice, lizards, eggs or raw meat, to lure brown tree snakes. To help eradicate the snakes, boat owners should also check their vessels daily for unwanted pests.

Pacific Daily News
Copyright © 2016 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved

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