New plan to prevent exotic snakes as future pests

03/04/17

A new National Incursion Response Plan for Terrestrial Snakes has been launched to provide important information and procedures that can be used by biosecurity specialists and professional snake handlers to respond to terrestrial snake incursions in Australia.

The plan was developed through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre in consultation with the Invasive Animals and Plants Committee (IPAC) Vertebrate Pest Incursions Expert Group and the Australian and State and Territory Governments.

Bruce M Christie, IPAC Chair said this Plan is an important tool to enable governments to be prepared to respond to an incursion from new invasive snake species.

“Australia faces a new wave of vertebrate pest threats, arising from illegal importation, escapes from illegal keeping in Australia, and as hitchhikers in the international movement of goods and people,” said Mr Christie.

Dr Michelle Christy, the Invasive Animals CRC National Incursions Response Facilitator, based at the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA said that snakes on a plane are a real phenomenon.

“Just in the last week, a snake from Brisbane hitchhiked to New Zealand, while another was accidently left behind by a passenger on a flight to Alaska. 

“A range of exotic snakes are illegally kept in Australia and now and then they are found in the wild, often by a member of the public. For example, there were nine boa constrictors and thirty corn snakes seized due to illegal keeping between 2010 and 2015.

“In the same period, more than 1550 non-native vertebrate detections of 126 species were reported in Australia, of which almost half were reptiles,” Dr Christy said.

To reduce the risks posed by new and emerging vertebrate pests, Australia is committed to improving national incursion management and the development of this plan is part of the improvement process.

The plan focuses on five of the 17 snake families present around the world that, if established in Australia, would have detrimental impacts on our environment, human health and agricultural industries.

“The plan outlines key issues such as the snake’s impacts, risk of incursion and establishment, and methods for responding to an incursion.

“Developing preparedness information for possible snake invasions is particularly important since reptiles like snakes pose a particularly high incursion risk,” Dr Christy said.

The risk is not just limited to aircraft. Snakes frequently stowaway on ships, trucks, trains and cars, are smuggled through the postal system, or released or escape from captivity.  

“Once in Australia, snakes have a high chance of establishing. We don’t want to follow the path of Florida, Guam or Japan where invasive snakes have caused catastrophic ecological and economic damage.” Dr Christy said.

The new national snake plan forms part of an integrated emergency incursion preparedness and response system to ensure that Australia is well prepared in the event of nationally significant incursions. Used by incursion response specialists, it provides the processes and procedures necessary to effectively manage a snake incursion.

The National Incursions Response Plan for Terrestrial Snakes can be downloaded via PestSmart at www.pestsmart.org.au/national-incursion-response-plan-for-terrestrial-snakes  

Sightings of exotic snakes in the wild or being illegally kept in Australia should be reported to the National Pest Hotline 1800 084 881.

Featured image: If boa constrictor’s established as a pest species in Australia, they would wreak havoc on our native ecosystems and environment (image by Flavio Eiro supplied under creative commons)