POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 19, 2011
News reports about the threats snakes and other illegal pets pose in the islands may have spurred residents to turn in a large number of contraband reptiles in a recent two-week period, officials said Monday.
The state Department of Agriculture said it took custody of four snakes and eight lizards between June 29 and Wednesday.
The department typically gets one illegal animal every two or three months, said Glenn Sakamoto, compliance section supervisor.
"I'm very shocked by the amount of animals we've collected in two weeks," Sakamoto said. "The number of snakes alone is alarming."
The first animal to make headlines recently was a 9-foot, 3-inch-long boa constrictor that pig hunters found July 4 in Waiawa Gulch. Agriculture officials said the constrictor appeared to have been someone's pet, based on its smooth skin and docile manner.
Four days later police seized a 7-foot albino Burmese python from its West Loch home. Officers were led there by a CrimeStoppers tip, and the snake's owners were granted amnesty.
In the two-week period, another constrictor and albino Burmese python were turned in, along with eight lizards — three bearded dragons, a blue-tongued skink, a tegu lizard, an iguana and two leopard geckos.
ANIMAL AMNESTYPeople who have illegal animals are encouraged to turn them in under the state's amnesty program, which provides immunity from prosecution. Illegal animals may be turned in, no questions asked, at the Honolulu Zoo, Panaewa Zoo in Hilo or any Humane Society office or state Department of Agriculture office.
Anyone with information on illegal animals should call the Pest Hotline at 643-7378 or CrimeStoppers at 953-8300.
Except for the Waiawa constrictor, the animals were turned in under the state's amnesty program. People who do so gain immunity from prosecution for owning or transporting illegal animals, crimes that carry maximum penalties of a $200,000 fine and three years in prison.
CrimeStoppers coordinator Sgt. Kim Buffett said Monday she attributes the increase in surrendered animals to the public's growing awareness of the threat illegal species pose here. She also credited the amnesty program and the reward — up to $1,000 — for a tip to CrimeStoppers.
"We're not encouraging people to turn in their friends, but we just don't want them (owners) to turn the animals loose," Buffett said.
She said news that a Florida jury convicted a couple Thursday of manslaughter, third-degree murder and child neglect after their 2-year-old daughter was strangled by the family's pet python had an effect on local snake owners.
"People understand that these snakes could kill a baby," Buffett said. "That big boa could have eaten a baby."
Although the 12 reptiles are nonvenomous, Sakamoto said they present a threat to the environment and public safety. Snakes and large lizards can prey on and compete with native animal populations for food and habitat, the department said.
The department's Plant Quarantine Branch will hold the reptiles until arrangements can be made to send them to a mainland reptile farm.
Manuel Mollinedo, Honolulu Zoo director, said he is trying to keep the tegu lizard and one of the pythons for the zoo's reptile exhibit.
"The albino pythons, because of their light skin, are striking and are a bit of a novelty," Mollinedo said.