POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 2, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:05 a.m. HST, Feb 2, 2011
To hear Moe Suesue tell it, the snake sprang over his net and wrapped around his arm before spitting in his face.
It's a tale that seemed to grow each time Suesue told it. But state inspectors do not dispute this — Moe helped catch a snake Sunday afternoon, earning him the praise and gratitude of those who protect Hawaii's ecosystem.
"Moe is a hero because he kept an eye out on the snake," said Keevin Minami, land vertebrate specialist with the Department of Agriculture. "Because if he didn't, it's like a needle in a haystack" trying to spot and capture the reptiles, which are illegal in Hawaii.
Traps largely fail because snakes have so much prey available in Hawaii, they ignore the bait, Minami added.
Snakes top the state's list of threatening invasive species because they have no predators here and will prey on native birds and other species. Hawaii's only established snake population is the Hawaiian blind snake, an eyeless species that grows only about 1 foot long and eats bugs.
While the state gets only about a dozen snake sightings a year, it catches even fewer in the wild.
The latest specimen — a young male black rat snake, about 4 years old and 4 1/2 feet long — will be shipped to the mainland.
Black rat snakes are nonvenomous and can grow up to 7 feet — large enough to kill a small human or a pet. Minami suspects the snake was a pet that someone left at the dump.
Suesue said the tale began when he was waiting in a line of cars to enter the Refuse Convenience Center on Waipahu Depot Street on Sunday morning. A driver who had stepped out of his car because of the heat began frantically waving to Suesue.
The distressed driver "look like somebody die already," Suesue said of the man's reaction.
Suesue walked over in time to see the snake scurry into a hole in a cement traffic barrier.
According to a state report, two inspectors arrived at about 12:20 p.m., and one lifted the concrete barrier with a car jack, breaking the jack but coaxing the snake along, while the second inspector shooed the snake toward Suesue, who had volunteered to stand by with a net.
The report says the snake went into Suesue's net with its tail hanging out, and one of the investigators used a metal hook to keep the snake's head on the ground before placing it in a bag. The capture took less than an hour.
Afterward the accounts wildly differed. Suesue said he grabbed the snake with a canvas bag when it came over the net.
"Too big," he said. "It's a small net. He climb up, and I use the bag to grab him."
"He spit in my face," he said. "It squished my arm tight."
He said the snake also wrapped around an inspector's arm until the man bagged it.
Dean Ramiro, who first spotted the snake, said Suesue never grabbed it. He saw the inspector use a metal hook to hold the snake on the ground and bag it. Ramiro, who was interviewed by phone after he had returned to work, said he stuck around from about 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to make sure the snake was captured.
"I didn't want that snake to go into anybody's house," he said.