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U.S. government air drops dead mice on Guam to kill invasive snakes

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Guam, invasive snakes, air drop

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(NaturalNews) It's not exactly the Berlin Airlift, but the U.S. government is nonetheless airlifting sustenance to another part of the world.

This time, the destination is Guam, and the "food" being flown isn't something THAT most humans would be interested in eating.

According to various reports, 2,000 mice were tossed out of a plane recently over Andersen Air Force Base wearing tiny cardboard parachutes. Their "mission"? To kill brown tree snakes, "an invasive species that has caused millions of dollars in wildlife and commercial losses since it arrived a few decades ago," U.S. News reported.

But there's a catch: The mice were all dead. And they had been pumped full of painkillers.

More from U.S. News:

The unlikely invasion was the fourth and biggest rodent air assault so far, part of an $8 million U.S. program approved in February to eradicate the snakes and save the exotic native birds that are their snack food.

"Every time there is a technique that is tested and shows promise, we jump on that bandwagon and promote it and help out and facilitate its implementation," Tino Aguon, acting chief of the U.S. Agriculture Department's wildlife resources office for Guam, told NBC television station KUAM.

Some 2 million snakes are on the island

But it's not just the birds THAT the U.S. government is attempting to protect. It also has much to do with saving taxpayer money.

Andersen, like many of the large industrial complexes located on the Western Pacific island, regularly suffers power outages, as the snakes crawl their way into electric substations an average of 80 times a year. And they cost in excess of $4 million a year in repairs and lost productivity - a figure cited by the Interior Department in a study more than six years ago.

The U.S. government has tried many ways to get rid of the snakes, which officials say probably arrived in some cargo shipment that was not adequately inspected in the 1950s.

Officials have tried snake traps, snake-sniffing dogs and snake-hunting inspectors. All have helped control the snake population, but the reptiles have proven particularly hardy and adept at proliferating, and they now infest the entire island.

The government says Guam is now home to an estimated 2 million brown snakes, which - in some regions of the island - reach a density of 13,000 per square mile, a number that is more concentrated than even the Amazon rainforests.

But, say experts, the snakes have one vulnerability: Tylenol.

As reported by NBC:

For some reason, the snakes are almost uniquely sensitive to acetaminophen, the active ingredient in the ubiquitous over-the-counter painkiller. If you can get a tree snake to eat just 80 milligrams, you can kill it. That's only about one-sixth of a standard pill - pigs, dogs and other similarly sized animals would have to eat about 500 of the baited mice to get a lethal dose.

In addition, mice are like delicacies to brown snakes. They love them. And it's simple to bait mice with acetaminophen. The hard part was figuring out how to get the baited mice to the snakes, though.

Enter U.S. airpower.

Some mice are equipped with data transmitters

"The process is quite simple," Dan Vice, the Agriculture Department's assistant supervisory wildlife biologist for Guam, told KUAM.

The rodents are dropped from helicopters, which make low-altitude flights over Andersen's forested areas. The mice are dropped in a timed sequence.

Before they are dropped, each rodent is laced with a deadly microdose of acetaminophen, then strung up on two pieces of cardboard and green tissue paper.

"The cardboard is heavier than the tissue paper and opens up in an inverted horseshoe," Vice said. "It then floats down and ultimately hangs up in the forest canopy. Once it's hung in the forest canopy, snakes have an opportunity to consume the bait."

In the end, wildlife workers gauge how effective the mice have been. "In addition to the acetaminophen and the parachutes, some of the poison pests also come equipped with tiny data-transmitting radios," said NBC.






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