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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Aulani Wilhelm of the state Department of Land and
Natural Resources holds the molted skin of a black
rat snake, found by Hyatt Regency employees in
Poipu, Kauai, and sent to Honolulu for

Shed skin sends
Kauai officials
on snake hunt

It's against state law to
have any snake, even one
that's harmless to humans

By Rosemarie Bernardo

What's probably an escaped black rat snake about 5 feet long is not a welcome visitor on the Garden Isle.

Though it would be harmless to humans, state wildlife officials want to capture the non-native beast because of the havoc it could cause to indigenous wildlife.

A groundskeeper at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu found shed snakeskin at about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

That afternoon, hotel security staff found small portions of snakeskin three floors directly above the ground level where snakeskin was first seen.

By Monday evening, five wildlife workers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources combed the resort grounds, using flashlights.

No snake was found.

Staff members of the Wildlife and Forestry Division are expected to set traps today in an attempt to capture the snake and make a positive identification.

"At this time no snake has been spotted," Robin Jumper, public relations director of the resort, said yesterday.

The snakeskin was flown to Honolulu yesterday, where herpetologist Fred Kraus used it to estimate the snake's size and type.

Black rat snakes are native to eastern North America and feed on small mammals, birds and bird eggs. They are capable of climbing trees and can grow up to 8 feet long. Humans are not in danger from this type of snake, which is commonly kept as a pet, Kraus said.

But in Hawaii it is against state law to have any kind of snake. Violators can face up to three years in jail and a $200,000 fine.

"All such snake incidents and reports are extremely important to us," said Tom Telfer, Land and Natural Resources district wildlife manager in Kauai.

"At this point, as in most of these instances, we do not know what kind of snake it is for sure, but will make our best effort to capture it and confirm whether or not an unwanted snake is indeed on the loose on Kauai," he said.

"It only takes a few such instances and bad luck for a population of snakes to become established in Hawaii. Our greatest concern is the serious ecological damage that could occur to Hawaii's forests if snakes became established here," Telfer said.

"Any snake released into the wild can have devastating effects on native animals. We don't want the same thing to occur here as happened on Guam with the brown tree snake."

In Guam the brown tree snake has devastated the bird population and also poses a threat to people as well as causing economic and ecological loss. If anyone has information about the origin of this snake, call DLNR on Kauai at 274-3433. The state has an amnesty program for those who voluntarily turn in pet snakes to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture before an investigation is initiated. All information is confidential.

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