Experts: Snakes no problem

  • photo submitted by Ray Kahaunaele

    Ray Kahaunaele has been to Guam multiple times for training in brown tree snake response.

LIHUE — Invasive species experts on Kauai aren’t concerned about the state’s plan to bring four brown tree snakes to Hawaii, and it’s not just because the reptiles will only be on Oahu.

The snakes are males that will have been sterilized, according to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and will be used to train detector dogs looking for the invasive reptiles in air and sea cargo.

“Since they are all males, sterile and have tracking devices, there is no risk of them having a negative impact here in Hawaii,” said Kauai Invasive Species Committee’s Ray Kahaunaele.

Kahaunaele has been to Guam multiple times to learn how to respond to reports of brown tree snakes and leads the Kauai response team in the event of a report of the reptiles on the island.

He says his main goal when it comes to brown tree snakes is to avoid becoming like Guam, which currently is overrun with brown tree snakes, eating native birds and their eggs.

The animals are hard to spot because of their brown coloring, so training helps teach people like Kahaunaele how to see them against trees and bushes, as well as how to catch them should one be reported.

HDOA says these four snakes will be used for training in confined, secured areas and “as an added safeguard, they will be implanted with transmitters,” just in case one should escape.

“The snakes will not go to Kauai, only Oahu has detector dogs,” said Janelle Saneishi, public information officer for HDOA.

She continued: “All incoming aircraft from Guam, including military and commercial, are inspected with detector dogs on Oahu. They (brown tree snakes) will be used to make sure that the dogs are accurate and continuously able detect snakes in the aircraft, cargo and baggage.”

The snakes won’t be released, she said.

It’s not the first time DOA has imported brown tree snakes for their detector dog program — the first live, sterilized male was brought to Oahu in 1998 for detector dog training and research. Between September 1998 and December 2002, DOA imported seven brown tree snakes for the detector dog program.

The department couldn’t keep enough staff members to keep the program live, however, and stopped importing live snakes after 2002.

Detection dogs have been used throughout the islands for a variety of animals like mongoose and little fire ants.

“I think having dogs here in Hawaii that are trained to detect snakes is another tool that can be used to support invasive species detection at our ports,” Kahaunaele said. “These dogs can cover more ground in less time then an individual person could.”


Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at

  1. Charlie Chimknee December 18, 2018 6:06 am Reply

    Aloh Kakou,
    Of course there will not be errors in handling Brown Tree Snakes, nor will there be errors in sterilizing them, or tracking them, nor will there be error, mistakes, or intention of errors in Missile Alerts.

    If so many military planes go back and forth to Guam, why not bring the dogs to Guam for training, as well as having the dogs scour military and civilian aircraft headed to Hawaii and the USA, AS WELL AS SHIPS OF ANY KIND.

    And then also bring the best trained dogs to Hawaii to continue their service. You know like a trip to Hawaii as a reward for a snake job well done. Detect 10 snakes win a trip to Oahu. What a good incentive for dog training…!


  2. Pat December 18, 2018 7:05 am Reply

    Not a good idea, a mistake can happen. Take the doge to Guam and train them there.

  3. Bruce December 18, 2018 9:54 am Reply

    They should train the dogs in Guam and not bring those snakes here. Government has made mistakes before. This would be a HUGE mistake if the snakes were misidentified as sterile or male and found out later that they’ve reproduced. If the dogs can be trained here, they can be trained there. Preventative maintenance.

  4. Franny December 18, 2018 3:26 pm Reply

    The training of detector dogs isn’t a one-and-done, tho. The dogs need to have regular access to the target to maintain their skills. Sure, they can be trained with snakes in Guam, but after a while they would no longer be effective in Hawaii. I can see where it would not make sense to fly dogs to Guam every few months – that would be hard on the dogs and maybe not very cost-efficient.

  5. Charlie Chimknee December 18, 2018 9:46 pm Reply

    Aloha Franny, too expensive? For the richest country in the world, in the most expensive place to live? Hardly…

    Dog flights every few months..hard on the dogs? flight crews fly further than that R/T a few times a week…dogs are heartier than people. What about mush dogs pulling sleds across the Arctic.

    Besides everyone knows dogs are smarter than humans. Housed, fed, stick and ball toss games for a few barks at night whether there be a burglar or not, just to keep the human appreciation going.

    Dogs : 1; Humans : 0; Brown tree snake: -1


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