Brown tree snakes are not native to the U.S. island of Guam. They reached the island’s jungles by way of U.S. military ships after World War II. It’s now estimated that there are millions of them there, killing off all but two of the native bird species, biting people (their venom is not lethal to humans), and causing damage to the island’s electrical power system by climbing up power lines. Due to an anticipated increase in the U.S. military on Guam that will potentially increase outbound aircraft, environmentalists in Hawaii are worried that snakes on a plane will get into cargo bays and disembark there.
So, after years of unsuccessfully trying to trap and poison the reptiles, the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Projection Agency have teamed up with the Department of Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam and the Pacific Islands to take serious action against the menace. The plan? To stuff dead, previously frozen baby mice with acetaminophen (the common ingredient in the painkiller, Tylenol, which is deadly to snakes) and air drop them into the large forest near Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in hope of reducing the snake population closest to cargo facilities.
And, so the thawed neonatal mice don’t fall to the ground, each will be individually attached to a tiny flotation device made from cardboard and paper streamer designed to catch and tangle in the forest canopy, making them easy pickings for the snakes. Unlike some other snakes, brown tree snakes have no problem eating already dead prey. According to all three government agencies, the aerial bating will help to reduce environmental and economic risks caused by the snakes and decrease the possibility that these will wind up in places such as Hawaii which isn’t prepared to deal with them.
According to an AP news story, a 2010 study conducted by the
NationalWildlifeResearch Center found that that damage caused by brown tree snakes would cause between $593 million and 2.14 billion in economic damage annually if they became established in Hawaii as they are on Guam. Power outages and an anticipated drop in tourism would be the likely outcomes.
Some animal rights groups including People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) call the plans to drop the toxic dead mice cruel and dangerous.