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February 25, 2009 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Before World War II, Guam had 12 species of native forest birds. Today, 10 of those species are extinct, and the other 2 have less than 200 individuals.

Stowing away in ship cargo, the Brown Tree Snake has overrun the island. With no natural predators and a virtually endless food supply, it causes power outages, and may mean the end of Guam's Forests.
posted by Bernt Pancreas (25 comments total)

 
Let me be the first to say that the march of civilization didn't need to include the spreading of the brown tree snake. And see: Invasive Meltdown for a similar discussion.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2009


Ship'em all to India to help with the rats! (they have a big rat problem)
posted by orme at 5:12 PM on February 25, 2009


I often dream of having a new continent or even planet I could run off to that people haven't ruined yet.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:15 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Big ups to Bob Beck. RIP knowing you did good work.
posted by tellurian at 5:24 PM on February 25, 2009


Columbia has more info.
researchers are in the process of developing a strain of paramyxovirus to be used for snake eradication. This deadly virus spreads between snakes through inhalation or from contact with contaminated surfaces. Methyl bromide has also been tested effectively as a fumigant, but is not currently in use because of its potentially damaging effects to the ozone layer. Currently on Guam, the Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Plant Inspection Service conducts snake trapping and nighttime spotlight searches to reduce numbers in cargo areas. Specially trained Jack Russell terriers are used to detect the hidden presence of brown tree snakes in cargo. In light of these control techniques, however, methods to prevent of snake entry into protected areas and dispersal to other geographical areas still need further research and management
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:27 PM on February 25, 2009


The only known natural predators of the brown tree snake are pigs and monitor lizards.

I guess introducing pigs and monitor lizards to Guam wouldn't work out well in the long run?
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:28 PM on February 25, 2009


Pig-riding monitor lizards, armed with Jack Russell terriers. Those snakes would be so fucked.
posted by orme at 5:33 PM on February 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I guess introducing pigs and monitor lizards to Guam wouldn't work out well in the long run?
The wild pigs on Guam have too much natural vegetation to really bother with the snakes (unless it's a mother pig, they attack everything), and the snakes will even eat the monitor lizards if they find them when they're still small.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 5:35 PM on February 25, 2009


I knew a kid who was sent off to a christian boot camp in Guam. We never saw him again.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2009


Pig-riding monitor lizards, armed with Jack Russell terriers and bottles of Tylenol. Those snakes would be so fucked.
posted by tellurian at 6:06 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pig-riding monitor lizards, armed with Jack Russell terriers and bottles of Tylenol, blessed by the touch of a reliquary containing the dried penis of St Patrick and a signed first edition of the Jungle book.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:36 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any outside observer not sharing our belief that homo sapiens is a more important species than any of the millions of others around us would have to hope for the sake of the planet's health as a whole that we hurry up and finish killing ourselves off before we take too many more other species with us.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:03 PM on February 25, 2009


Any outside observer not sharing our belief that homo sapiens is a more important species than any of the millions of others around us would have to hope for the sake of the planet's health as a whole that we hurry up and finish killing ourselves off before we take too many more other species with us.

So you mean the outsider would share YOUR beliefs. What if the outsider really wanted to say "Well when the hell are those longshanks gonna take to kill off the rest of animalia till we go in and get us some pwnag3?"

Sometimes, the aliens like to think for themselves instead of the yoga lovin' hippies doing it for them!
posted by hal_c_on at 8:36 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


since world war 2, guam has become the poster child of sold out pacific paradise. the indigenous chamarros are voiceless and their culture has been bulldozed by the military and foreign investors. there is a new plan afoot to build an "interstate" highway through the only remaining unmolested mountains to connect 2 US military installations which are being enlarged to accept the marines and dependents being thrown out of okinawa by the japanese, who have grown tired of the behavior of american soldiers. neighboring islands are being surveyed for potential practice bombing sites, shore maneuvers and offshore areas to sink ships. the american military still hasn't cleaned up the mess they left after the war. there are fuel storage containers on guam and saipan that are leaking into the sea. the landfills on the island are toxically full and need to be expanded. it will cost the american taxpayers over a billion dollars per soldier to transfer them to guam if the early estimates are accurate. bye bye birdie.
posted by kitchenrat at 8:58 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


(a billion? More like $1.8 million, you're off by several orders of magnitude)
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on February 25, 2009


have to hope for the sake of the planet's health as a whole

This just sort of belief always flabbergasts me. Earth is not going anywhere. There is absolutely nothing humans can do to the Earth to remove all life from the planet, and if we eventually wipe out our species, the Earth will keep on going without us, new life ever evolving. In the wake of Chernobyl, they found radiation-loving bacteria and fungus. By volcanic vents they find thermophilic organisms.

Environmentalism is, when you get down to brass tacks, about preserving a habitable planet for humans, as we are the only species that matters. If a species fails in the forest, and no one knows it, does it matter? Of course, there's plenty to be said about not squandering our resources, and being careful with the biodiversity; humans don't really have millions of years to wait for new species to evolve, we're stuck with what we've got.

Now, much in the same way I don't plan on going on a killing spree to take as many with me as I can if/when I'm terminally ill, humanity as a whole shouldn't plan on systematically wiping out species. Analogously though, when I'm gone, I won't know or care about who's left, because I'm dead. When we're all gone, it won't matter what's left, because we're gone.

Furthermore, nature is ever-changing. While I fully admit that humans have impacted the environment in incredible ways, it seems strange to assume that the natural state is no-change. Species are constantly dying off as much as they're evolving. That's not sad, that's just the way it is.
posted by explosion at 3:48 AM on February 26, 2009


we are the only species that matters.

It's quite understandable that you would feel that way. But I doubt you have any citation for this that was not advanced by an equally self-interested party.

And if you do... well, let's just say you're sitting on the greatest FPP in MeFi history.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:18 AM on February 26, 2009


That's not sad, that's just the way it is.

No. Screw that, really.
That's what all the smug proud-to-be-'politically incorrect' College Republicans spout on my university's forums.

Sure, species go extinct. But I have a problem when people go driving animals to extinction.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:27 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


To those who don't care.
posted by Restless Day at 5:37 AM on February 26, 2009


oops.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:01 AM on February 26, 2009


I often dream of having a new continent or even planet I could run off to that people haven't ruined yet.

But as soon as you get there it is ruined.
posted by a3matrix at 6:38 AM on February 26, 2009


But as soon as you get there it is ruined.

The Apollo astronauts left their bags of trash on the Moon. Long after every terrestrial trace of man's existence has been scoured away, those bags of trash will remain preserved in the lunar vacuum - not far from the American flag, I suppose - as the ultimate symbol of what we stood for.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:47 AM on February 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sure, species go extinct. But I have a problem when people go driving animals to extinction.

I'm with you on that. We really ought to be smarter than that. But theoretically, let's say that dolphins or chimpanzees were attempting to exterminate another species. Would it be better to stop them, or let the course of nature continue? Some species die to climate change and predation, and while I'm sure that humans are to blame for part/most of the current global warming crisis, climates have changed before, and without the help of humans. Extinction cycles are natural too, and so while I don't encourage humans to be careless, I don't see extinctions as "sad" either.

It's quite understandable that you would feel that way. But I doubt you have any citation for this that was not advanced by an equally self-interested party.

Joe Beese, when I say that "we are the only species that matters," it's because the concept of "mattering" rather than merely "existing" is a human construct. When we're gone, there won't be anyone to judge what "matters." I fundamentally disagree with the Voluntary Human Extinctionists, because what's the point of a "better" Earth if no one's there to enjoy it?

It comes down to a near-perfect artwork displayed to all, or a perfect artwork boxed up in a crate somewhere, never allowed to see the light of day.
posted by explosion at 7:16 AM on February 26, 2009


My family has lived on Guam for about 15 years and I lived there for about 5 years myself. Brown Tree Snakes are a major problem. Every flight, shipment, etc. that arrives in or leaves Guam has to be thoroughly inspected for snakes, to keep new species from arriving and to keep the snakes from being exported to other islands, particularly Hawaii (most islands in the South Pacific do not have snakes). The JRTs search all planes, inside and out, and search passenger carry on and checked luggage before it ever gets on the plane.

Because of all the power outages that are blamed on the Brown Tree Snake (most people think that half the time it's just any easy excuse for GPA) it has become a running joke that anytime anything even remotely weird happens it must have been a Brown Tree Snake.

Many of the native bird species of Guam are also found of other islands in the Marianas chain. I don't have time to find the links now but I know that over the years there have been programs to try and reintroduce some of the species that have been wiped out.

As to comments from kitchenrat, Guam is a very complicated place that has under constant foreign influence since Magellan landed in 1521. The relationship between Guam and the US military is almost always contentious but is tremendously better today than it has been in the past. Also, as a note, the area between the air force base and the navy base is almost entirely high flat plateau, and most of it is pretty densely populated, the "unmolested" mountains are on the southern end of the island, the absolute wrong direction from where the road needs to go (the air force base is on the northern tip and the navy base is in the central area). There is one mountainous area right near the navy base, but it is by no means "unmolested".
posted by cbp at 9:43 AM on February 26, 2009


Obligatory topical gag:

Q. What did St Patrick say when he drove the snakes out of Ireland?

A. [turns head] Are youz alroight in the back dere lads?
posted by MuffinMan at 10:02 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


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