For over 60 years, officials have been waging war against the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has killed off much of Guam’s native bird population, and which some experts fear may spread to Hawaii.
If all goes according to plan, infant mice corpses, wearing small parachutes and laced with the pain reliever acetaminophen, will be flung from helicopters flying over the jungle. Acetaminophen is deadly to snakes.
Officials hope that the rodent paratroopers will then become entangled in the foliage where the overpopulated reptiles will find and devour them.
The success of the strategy hinges on two key facts about the brown tree snake: that it will eat prey that is already dead and that the species is lethally sensitive to acetaminophen.
Aside from decimating numerous native bird species, the brown tree snake has also proven to be nuisance to the humans living on Guam.
The reptiles, which can grow up to 10 feet in length, commonly slither up utility poles, causing occasional power outages. Snakebites are also not uncommon, though the bites are rarely fatal to people.
Reports of the Department of Agriculture policy have been met with howls of protest from the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which calls the campaign a “clumsy dangerous massacre.”
“For reptiles, death could take days or even weeks,” says Martin Mersereau, a spokesperson for a group. “No animal should be forced to endure cruel death.”
The airdrop is slated to begin in April or May.
Photo: Peter Savarie - U.S. Geological Survey