Menu
All about forests, rivers, oceans
Australia orders Japanese whalers to stay away
Esther Woolfson's urban nature diary
Ladbrokes is gambling with fish extinction and so is the government
US wildlife officials propose endangered status for wolverines
The hare's death-scream tells of a history soon over
The ethics of keeping a killer cat
It's as if the landscape and stream are caught amid their own owl dreams
Many more seabirds may be affected by Channel pollution, RSPB says
Leading paper firm pledges to halt Indonesian deforestation
Fishing campaigners urge MEPs to vote for discards reform
Dog attack law to be extended to cover incidents on private property
The return of grey wolves 'not enough to restore Yellowstone's ecosystem'
Oil additive polymer PIB may be responsible for seabird deaths
MEPs vote to ban discards in historic reform of fishing policy
All dogs in England to be microchipped by 2016
Some of nature's mysteries are all the better for going unsolved
First the internet, now Monopoly cats have got our attention
Polar bears 'may need to be fed by humans to survive'
Invasive mussel poses ecological and economic threat to island community
Ancestor of humans and other mammals was small furry insect eater
Conflict in DRC Congo threatens chimpanzee tourism programme
The intruder, a raven, passed through the treetops into view
The horsemeat scandal: could there be much more to come?
Circuses remove last of the big cats from UK's big tops
  US plan to control Guam's snake population with toxic mice angers Peta
Animal rights activists have dismissed as "absurd" and "cruel" the American government's plans to bombard Guam from the air with toxic dead mice in a bid to curtail the spread of invasive snakes.

The US air drop over the the Pacific island is due to commence in the spring, and is aimed at addressing the problems caused by non-native brown tree snakes. Having hitched a ride to the island some 60 years ago on military ships, the colony of reptiles have been deemed responsible for killing off native bird species, biting human inhabitants and knocking out electricity by slithering onto power lines.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii some 3,000 miles away environmentalists fear a similar invasion from the snakes, possibly through unwitting transportation in aircraft that have spent time on Guam.

But the US Department of Agriculture's plans to reduce the number of brown tree snakes in Guam population estimates reach up to 2m have been attacked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

Martin Mersereau, director of cruelty investigations at the animal rights organisation, described the plan as a "clumsy dangerous massacre".

"Brown tree snakes did not ask to be stowaways on planes or ships and then forced to survive on a foreign island," he said.

But irrespective of how they got to be on Guam, some residents say the snakes which are native to Australia and Papua New Guinea are a menace.

They can grow to be more than 10ft (3m) in length and can climb poles and trees. Attacks on people have been reported, but their venom is not lethal to humans.

Birds on the other hand are not so lucky. Experts believe that the reptiles have been responsible for the destruction of Guam's native birds, who are defenceless against the nocturnal, tree-based predators.

As well as taking a toll on native wildlife, the snakes also threaten the tourist industry of Guam, some fear. The US territory home to some 160,000 people relies heavily on holiday-making to support its economy.

The solution, government scientists believe, is to take advantage of the creature's two big weaknesses its unfussiness when it comes to food and its susceptibility to a common painkiller, acetaminophen.

The drug sold under the brand name Tylenol in the US is harmless to humans, but is lethal to the snakes. And unlike other snakes, the brown tree variety do not turn their noses up at prey that has already been killed.

Scientists believe that stuffing dead mice with the drug and then conducting an air drop on areas known to be inhabited by the snakes would be an effective way to reduce their numbers.

"We are taking this to a new phase," said Daniel Vice, assistant state director of US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam and the Pacific Islands. "There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam," he added.

The mice drop due to take place in April or May will focus on Guam's sprawling Andersen air force base, from which it is feared snakes could hitch a ride off the island.

Using helicopters, the dead mice will be dropped by hand, one by one. In a bid to mitigate any danger to other animals, they will be fitted with mini-parachutes meant to catch on the branches of trees.

Supporters of the scheme say the impact on other animals will be minimal, especially as the snakes have successfully killed off many bird species.

But the brown tree snakes do have their defenders.

"Although the snakes are considered invasive, no animal should be forced to endure cruel death," Mersereau said.

If consumed, the drugged mice would cause renal and liver failure in the snakes, Peta claimed.

"For reptiles, death could take days or even weeks," Mersereau said. Moreover the method being used is "exceeding indiscriminate" and could cause "great risk to carnivours and scavengers and also to birds".

But it is a risk that US officials seem prepared to take. They point at the potential cost of allowing further colonies to breed in other Pacific islands like Hawaii.

A 2010 study conducted by the National Wildlife Research Center suggested that brown tree snakes would cause between $593m and $2.14bn in economic damage each year if they became established in Hawaii. Power outages would cause the most damage, followed by a projected decline in tourism.

To date, only a few brown tree snakes have ever been found in Hawaii, and none over the past 17 years.

The mice drop is intended to keep the number of stowaways to an absolute minimum. Even if they are to have their numbers reduced, Peta disagrees with the method.

Mersereau believes that it would be better to have the snakes trapped by trackers and then euthanised humanely than given a deadly last meal of toxic mice.
In the British countryside, alien species are not always undesirables
Pandas keep Scotland guessing over mating game
US plan to control Guam's snake population with toxic mice angers Peta
African lions the killer kings in mortal danger from man and sham medicine
EU fish discards deal welcomed by UK
Pilot badger culls set to go ahead
Scientist calls Hugh's Fish Fight 'a tawdry piece of hack journalism'
A couple of interesting visitors have arrived at the lakes in the past week
Sea Shepherd conservation group declared 'pirates' in US court ruling
Schmallenberg virus found in farm animals in almost all of Britain
Gardens: wildlife surveys
Tackling the illegal trade in wild animals is a matter of global urgency
100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists
The snipe's 'drumming' sound is perfectly evocative of Welsh hill country
Sharks at risk of extinction from overfishing, say scientists
Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade
Humans are not the only animals to enjoy alcohol
China must send a clear message to consumers on ivory trade
Google shopping adverts fuel ivory trade, conservation group warns
Two-thirds of forest elephants killed by ivory poachers in past decade
US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Above the loch, the scene was dominated by the abundant birch trees
Lion kills intern at California animal sanctuary
Bid to halt polar bear trade fails
Deer culling on massive scale backed by expert
Scores on the paws: how one man changed the shape of dogs to come
Cites: bid to curb sale of ivory and rhino horn voted down
Menu
Geoffrey Matthews obituary
World's largest captive crocodile dies in Philippines
Urban foxes: the facts and the fiction
Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62
Knut the polar bear lifesize model to go on show in Berlin
Horsemeat scandal: Owner of Yorkshire abattoir denies wrongdoing
Foxes' friends and foes say an urban cull is not the answer
Golfer pierces leg with tee to remove spider venom then finishes round
Chinese appetite for shark fin soup devastating Mozambique coastline
A peregrine stands on one foot and imperiously looks out from her ledge
Action on dangerous dogs has been 'woefully inadequate', MPs warn
Why Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight is still necessary
What the horsemeat scandal and fish quotas tell us about Europe
New to nature No 99: Phagocata flamenca
We can overlook the aesthetics of gulls, but they make grey beautiful again
Birdwatch: Stonechat
Environment Pollution Pollution that killed seabirds cannot be traced, rules investigation
Communities of voices the link between birdsong and spoken language
Bid to solve mystery of 50,000 red-breasted geese lost in migration
How a ferret took me on a journey to a saner world
Panda eyes focused as Yang Guang and Tian Tian seek each other out
So entrancing are the clouds that the deer are unnoticed until I shift my gaze
Anyone for camelcino? Camel milk set to be big business for east Africa
Red squirrel finds pine marten a fearsome ally in its fight for survival