RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
A 36-inch albino corn snake, confiscated from luggage at Honolulu Airport, was put on display at the Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Branch yesterday for media.
Airport inspectors find a
snake in luggage bound for
Sacramento on Hawaiian Airlines
State agriculture officials are trying to figure out why anyone might want to secretly transport a snake out of Hawaii.
On Tuesday, agriculture officials seized a 3-foot-long albino corn snake at Honolulu Airport discovered in a bag headed to the mainland.
"That's a reversal," said Domingo Cravalho Jr., state Department of Agriculture animal specialist. "It's usually coming in that people declare it, or we find people having it when they come off the plane. Never going out. It's pretty unusual."
State law prohibits possessing or transporting snakes. And transporting reptiles without a permit is a misdemeanor under federal law.
A Transportation Security Administration screener doing a random search of checked luggage found the snake in a bag about to be loaded onto a Hawaiian Airlines flight bound for Sacramento, Calif.
"Our job is hard enough," said Sidney Hayakawa, the TSA's Federal Security Director for Honolulu Airport. "We're looking for prohibited items and explosives. And lo and behold, we see this orange-colored snake. He was startled to find it."
This is the first time a snake has been found by TSA officials in Hawaii.
The snake had already passed through agriculture screening and was on its way into a Hawaiian Airlines aircraft headed for Sacramento.
U.S. Department of Agriculture screeners are trained to look for insects, fruits, vegetables and plants that could harbor insects and even soil, but not for animals, said Carol Russell, Plant Protection and Quarantine Branch Operations officer.
She said the screeners still could have spotted the snake with their X-ray machine.
"Depends on the size and if it was camouflaged. It could have been so small that they didn't notice it," Russell said.
Hayakawa said TSA screeners are also not trained to look for animals.
Investigators questioned the bag's owner, a 32-year-old Waipahu woman who told them she packed her own bags but was not aware of the snake.
"That's her claim, but it's highly unlikely that a snake would crawl into somebody's apartment to specifically go into somebody's bag," Cravalho said.
State agriculture officials issued the woman a citation and $5,000 fine, then allowed her to board her flight for Sacramento. They also said they are continuing their investigation.
Hayakawa said he is also forwarding the case to the U.S. attorney.
Corn snakes can grow to more than 6 feet long and are commonly kept and sold as pets in much of the U.S. mainland and northern Mexico. Their normal diet includes mice, rats and birds. Snakes pose a serious threat to Hawaii's unique ecosystem, especially endangered bird populations.