His questions and comments follow:
I’m 9 years old and I live in NZ. People here say it’s great there are no snakes here. But, I love snakes. Do you think snakes would be good for NZ. If there are fossils from 20m years ago, then why aren’t there still snakes? I’m doing a talk called SOS Save our Snakes in Whangarei in September, for the Speech and Drama Festival. I’d like to use some of the information from your site, would you mind? I haven’t spoken to one person in NZ who likes snakes at all. I think they are so clever, with special powers that humans don’t have. What is the best thing about them, that you like? Thank you.
Although we knew some reasons why snakes should not be introduced to this new habitat, we needed to know more. After researching the subject, Chuck sent this response to James:
Thanks for your questions about snakes in NZ.
You mentioned that people in NZ are happy not to have snakes in your country. There are people here in the U.S. who would like to have no snakes here, as well.
My wife and I spend about half the year in the Arizona desert, home to many snakes and other reptiles, and have learned to pay close attention to where we put our hands and feet. For the other half of the year we are in a mountainous area of the country where there are very few snakes, none of which is venomous. Even so, we have developed a habit, no matter where we are, to walk carefully and alertly.
People in New Zealand have lived for generations not having to really watch for danger under foot. Any change in that feeling of safety would most generally be upsetting to the residents. I don’t think you could persuade many people to like, or even appreciate or understand, snakes if they have had no exposure to them.
Fear of Snakes
One of the main reasons people don’t like, or are scared of, snakes is because of the “unknown factor” of a very misunderstood animal. And, as people get older, they become less willing to accept changes in the way things have been. We have experienced that resistance as well here in the U.S. Some people don’t even like to see pictures of snakes!
As for snakes being a good addition to the NZ countryside…..Probably not. I hate to say that, but there have been many areas in the world where animals (and plants as well) have been introduced and then have gone on to cause serious problems with the native wildlife. Many times, an animal or plant is introduced to help control some other species that is out of control only to displace the native populations. Humans still have to learn to use a bit more common sense before introducing wildlife that in the long run may be very damaging to the native population.
The bottom line is that even though NZ has tons of rats and other damaging rodents that could be possibly controlled by snakes, the reptiles would also make a meal out of your native bird life, which has no real defense against a new predator.
One of the greatest disasters regarding snakes wiping out local wildlife is happening at this very moment on the island of Guam. Years ago, several brown tree snakes arrived on that island in a cargo shipment. With no natural enemies, they feasted on native birds and other wildlife which, for thousands of years, had no predators. The snake has been able to grow much larger than than where it was previously native due to such an abundant food source.
Since its arrival on Guam, the snake has wiped out almost all birds which have no defenses against such a successful predator. Even now, whenever an airplane arrives in Hawaii from Guam, the landing gear is visually inspected by authorities to assure that the invasive snake doesn’t get a foothold (no pun intended) on another snake-free island. The bird life in Hawaii would be rapidly (geologically speaking) exterminated if those snakes, or any other snakes found their way to that state.
I’ve read that no snakes are allowed in NZ, zoos included, with NO exceptions. It seems that your Council doesn’t want to risk an invasive species escaping and destroying some of your unique wildlife.
Here in the United States, some exotic animals have been released, either by plan or accident, in a tropical region of the country. These Reticulated and Burmese pythons have found a good climate to live in and they reproduce successfully. Also in the same region, the Florida Everglades, non-native lizards have set up housekeeping, competing with native lizards. And sometimes the invasive lizards will even eat the local population of lizards. As much as both you and I like and admire snakes, sometimes it’s wiser to prevent their entrance into an ecosystem which improperly managed could spell disaster to native wildlife.
Snakes at one time did live in NZ, but climate change has created a much cooler environment that is not beneficial to snakes and other reptiles except the tuatara. Snakes have been on the planet for over 160 million years. About 80 million years ago, NZ separated from Australia, home for an abundance of reptiles. This event, followed by cooler temperatures, gradually prevented the remaining snakes (and some lizards as well) from reproducing successfully, finally ceasing to exist altogether.
Snakes are frequently misunderstood and feared due to lack of knowledge and are killed out of ignorance. If I can help to overcome those negative thoughts and teach a person to appreciate a unique animal, I’m very pleased.