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Monday, April 21, 2014

‘CNMI snake free since 2001’

Brown Tree Snake Program supervisor Marja K. Onni is within arm’s reach of two canisters that contain two brown tree snakes the program uses for demonstration and training purposes. (Mark Rabago) So far so good for the Brown Tree Snake Program of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, as none of the invasive reptile species has been found alive in the CNMI since 2001.

This was according to BTS Program supervisor Marja K. Onni during Wednesday’s turnover of $100 check prize to Vicenta S. Lacanlale, who found the program’s missing 12-year-old snake detector dog “Maddy” last Dec. 20.

“The last 10 years have been pretty quiet. Between 1990 and 2001 we caught 11 brown tree snakes. One was caught on Rota in 2009 but it was already dead. That was the last one. The last [snake] found on Saipan was 2001 and it was found on an airplane.”

Onni said it’s a tribute to the local BTS Program that so far no snakes have reached the shores of the CNMI since the last live one was caught in 2001.

“We caught a lot in the early 1990s because we didn’t have enough inspectors. Now we have 15 K-9 teams. I think Guam is also checking very well [their airplanes and boats] these days and we don’t see them coming in anymore. I think it is very effective in the CNMI. All flights from Guam are carefully inspected for brown tree snakes that may have stowed away. K-9 teams check and double-check them.”

Onni said it also helps that the Commonwealth Ports Authority has set up a holding area for high-risk cargo that acts as a sort of barrier for snakes that manage to slip undetected.

“High-risk cargo are placed there for at least two to three days because snakes can go to household goods, washer and driers, and used cars.”

Onni said the BTS Program does keep two snakes on Saipan that they use for presentations at schools and to train their detector dogs.

She added that the Dec. 3 poisoned-mice drop in Guam was very successful and may finally cull the uncontrolled proliferation of the brown tree snake in the U.S. territory that has led to the decimation of the island’s bird population.

“It was very effective and they think maybe the next five or six years, Guam may rid themselves finally of the problem of brown tree snakes.”

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