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Little Attention To A Big Problem

A snake was found last week on a sidewalk in Chinatown in front of Kukui Plaza.

There was no panic, as government agriculture officials rushed to the scene and captured what turned out to be a non-venomous rainbow boa constrictor.

The non-venomous part of the snake is good news and so is the rainbow label, but not the constrictor part. Boa constrictors get big and suffocate, strangle, crush and swallow prey of all sizes.

It seems pretty obvious that this kind of story should be taken more seriously by the state Department of Agriculture (HDOA), because all we need for a real problem is if the snakes start breeding and we end up dealing with the kind of boa constrictor problem as Florida, where they’ve had to form a task force to search the swamps for the boas.

Snakes of any kind are illegal to possess or transport to Hawaii. Anyone who sees a snake or who knows of someone possessing illegal animals immediately should call the state’s pest hotline at 643-PEST (7378). HDOA’s hotline works, but how many people do you know have gone to jail for possessing an illegal pet like a rainbow boa constrictor?

The threatening fine is awesome-sounding – up to $200,000 and three years in prison – but I’ve never heard of anyone receiving a fine for possessing an illegal animal. Maybe it’s because if you turn in an illegal animal to authorities, you will be granted amnesty, no questions asked.

A bigger problem is what happens when the snakes multiply and end up in Nuuanu’s lush forest. There are so many streams and rivers for them to navigate, it’s hard to imagine how much trouble they could cause, and not just to birds. What happens when they crawl around the sidewalks and end up camping out with the homeless population in Thomas Square? That’s all we need is to have a homeless person or his or her pet attacked by a hungry boa constrictor. And many homeless residents in Honolulu have pets.

Sound a little far-fetched? Well, that’s what they said in Florida five years ago.

And let’s not make this a fiscal problem of not having enough inspectors to enforce the laws. This is a public problem that can be solved by educating citizens about how these pests get into Hawaii in the first place.

These are not cute little brown tree snakes from Guam. These snakes can kill humans.