Tuesday, October 26, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Lisa Nakayama of the state Department of Agriculture
handles a 5-foot- long brown tree snake. The snake
has been neutered and is now being used to train
dogs so they can sniff out the snakes.

Snake makes it
to isles, legally

A brown tree snake is
imported from Guam
for use in training

By Craig Gima


The first live brown tree snake legally brought into Hawaii is being held under security worthy of a Halawa prison inmate.

The brown tree snake is considered to be the single greatest threat to Hawaii's environment. A male, neutered snake was flown in last night on a commercial airline to help train dogs to detect it and prevent the species from establishing itself in Hawaii.

The snake, which Gov. Ben Cayetano nicknamed "Sam" today, was shown to officials and the media this morning. It's being held in a box, inside another locked box with not one but two padlocks. Every time its brought out, the snake is put into a double-secured cotton bag. Three inspectors are to be on site every time it is taken out for training and a radio transmitter has been attached to it so that inspectors can track it if it escapes.

"Brown tree snakes are a definite threat to our economy, environment and quality of life," Cayetano said in a news release. At the press conference today, Cayetano added that the snake has "devastated" wildlife on Guam, where the snake was brought in from.

"One of the nice things about Hawaii is that we have no snakes," he said.

The Legislature last year passed a bill to allow the animal to be imported. The state has an $18,000, three-year contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep Hawaii supplied with a snake. It cost about $900 to neuter and import the first animal.

The snake was originally supposed to come within a month to three months after the governor signed the bill in 1998, but the program was delayed. First, officials had to figure out how to neuter a snake. Many of the first neutering candidates did not survive.

Agriculture officials say it is cheaper to import a snake and train dogs here in Hawaii than to send dogs and handlers to Guam to be trained.

Hawaii has four dogs that inspect planes and luggage for snakes. With a live snake here, the state hopes to increase the number of dog and inspector teams to seven.

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