Stowaway snakes deplete bird populations on Guam
November 9, 1996
Web posted at: 3:40 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Abb Jones
GUAM (CNN) -- To the casual observer, Guam is a Pacific
paradise with gentle waves lapping against its sandy shores.
But a closer look reveals a more sinister side to the tiny
island -- the brown tree snake.
Following World War II, the snake -- which can grow to nearly
7 feet (2 meters) in length -- migrated to Guam from the
island of Manus by creeping into machinery and bicycles used
by the U.S. Navy. The snake went largely unnoticed at the
time, but without a natural predator to keep its population
in check, the snake flourished.
The result has been devastating to Guam's bird populations.
Of the island's eight natural bird species, five have become
extinct in the past 30 years -- gobbled up by the snake --
and the others are rapidly dwindling.
(1.2M/26 sec. QuickTime movie)
Twenty Marianas crows still live on the island -- but only
two are a breeding pair. To protect them, the two are kept in
captivity by the Guam Agricultural Department. The
once-plentiful fruit bat, although a mammal, has also fallen
prey to the brown tree snake, as has the Guam rail, a
flightless bird that lives underground. Seventy percent of
the rails now live in captivity to insure their survival.
"What we have here is a captive breeding program, says Kelly
Brock of the Department of Agriculture. "What we are hoping
to do is restore them back into the wild once the snake
problem is under control here on Guam."
Andersen U.S. Air Force Base has become the front line in the
assault on the brown tree snake. Trappers on the base use
live mice and eggs as bait to trap up to 60 of the unwanted
reptiles a day.
The real fight, however, is taking place at Guam's airports
and seaports, where police armed with terrier dogs patrol
cargo areas to keep the snakes from catching a ride to other
"We don't want the snakes to leave the island because of all
the damage that it did here on the island," said Danny
Rodriguez of U.S. Animal Damage Control. Guam is a U.S.