Maui police and state officials caught a small, juvenile snake that slithered out of a visitor’s backpack Monday night at a vacation rental in Pukalani.
The vacation rental’s owner happened to see the snake and reported it to police after informing the visitor, a 20-year-old male from Virginia that snakes are illegal in Hawaii. Upon arrival Monday night from Florida, the visitor put his backpack on the floor of the rental, and the snake slithered out.
“It is fortunate that the owner of the rental was aware of the seriousness of the snake being transported to Hawaii and took appropriate action and reported it,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, in a news release. “Visitors to our islands may not fully understand the threat that snakes pose to our community and our unique environment. It takes all of us to protect Hawaii.”
Maui police contacted Fern Duvall, program manager of the Native Ecosystem Protection Management — Maui Nui program of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, to capture and detain the snake overnight.
The snake was delivered to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture at Kahului early Tuesday morning and is awaiting transport to Honolulu.
Duvall, who consulted with an expert on the U.S. mainland, determined that the snake is a non-venomous southern black racer or Coluber constrictor priapus. It appears to be a newborn measuring about a foot long and a quarter-inch in diameter.
The snakes are mainly found in Florida and the eastern half of the U.S. and can grow up to six feet long. Their diet consists of mostly frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents, birds and their eggs.
State agriculture inspectors interviewed the 20-year-old visitor and property owner Tuesday morning, and determined the snake was a stowaway, and not purposely transported to Hawaii.
“Be informed about the very special place you live that is Hawaii,” said Duvall in a statement. “We should pay attention to what plants and animals we see (and) report things you feel are new to you as prevention is so much more important than having to react to established foreign pests out of control.”
With no natural predators in Hawaii, snakes pose a serious threat to Hawaii’s environment. Many species prey on birds and their eggs, increasing the threat to endangered, native birds. The larger, venomous snakes pose a danger to humans, pets and other animals.
The possession or act of knowingly transporting illegal animals is considered a class C felony under state law, punishable by a $200,000 fine and up to three years in prison.
Individuals who see or know of illegal animals in Hawaii are encouraged to call the state’s toll-free hotline at 643-PEST (7378) or turn them in under the state’s amnesty program.