The snake was no thicker than a pen and no longer than a ruler — but it warranted a call to Maui police when it slithered out of a traveler’s bag this week, according to Hawaii officials.
The reptile made itself known Monday night at a vacation rental in Pukalani, when it emerged from a backpack that a 20-year-old Virginia man had set down on the floor, according to Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture and Department of Land and Natural Resources. Officials said the man had just flown to the island from Florida.
Though the snake was small, the property’s owner recognized that it was still a big problem: Snakes are illegal in Hawaii, according to state officials.
“It is fortunate that the owner of the rental was aware of the seriousness of the snake being transported to Hawaii,” Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, said in a statement. “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 were called, and then Dr. Fern Duvall of the state’s Native Ecosystem Protection Management program “helped to detain the snake overnight,” state officials said.
Authorities said that interviews with the Virginia visitor and the rental property owner suggested that “the snake was a stowaway and not purposely transported to Hawaii.”
Breaking the Hawaii law that prevents people from knowingly bringing or possessing illegal animals is a felony, carrying up to three years in prison and a $200,000 fine, state officials warned.
Duvall worked with a mainland U.S. snake expert to identify the tiny, brown-colored critter as a southern black racer — a breed that is mostly found in Florida and the eastern U.S. The snake is non-venomous, but it can grow up to six feet long, officials said.
Photos released by state authorities show the juvenile snake is far from that length, measuring just a quarter inch in diameter and one foot long. The animal feeds on frogs, snakes, rodents, lizards and birds and their eggs.
The problem with snakes sneaking into Hawaii is that the reptiles have no natural predators on the island chain — meaning that they “pose a serious threat to Hawaii’s environment” and could harm endangered birds, people and their pets, Hawaii officials said.
On Tuesday morning, the snake was transferred to the state Department of Agriculture in Maui, where it’s being held until it can be sent to Honolulu. A Department of Agriculture spokesperson told McClatchy by email that “the snake will be held in quarantine and may be used for educational purposes.”
The spokesperson said the traveler reported flying to Hawaii from Fort Lauderdale.
Illegal animals found in Hawaii should be reported to the state’s toll-free pest hotline at 643-PEST (7378), officials said.
“We should pay attention to what plants and animals we see — 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,” Duvall said in a statement.