Making Invasive Habus Hiss-tory

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Wheeler, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management specialist, puts a Taiwanese Habu into a net Oct. 19, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The Taiwanese Habu is an invasive species to Okinawa and must be removed to protect the natural ecosystem. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman James Wheeler, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management specialist, puts a Taiwanese Habu into a net Oct. 19, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The Taiwanese Habu is an invasive species to Okinawa and must be removed to protect the natural ecosystem. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis)

Making Invasive Habus Hiss-tory

by: Airman 1st Cass Corey M. Pettis, 18th Wing Public Affairs | .
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published: October 26, 2016

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management shop headed into the 18th Munitions area Oct. 19 to capture habus that are invasive to the island.

The Taiwanese and the Sakishima Habu are invasive species to Okinawa that have a negative effect on the ecosystem and must be removed.

“Invasive means not local. They’ve either hitchhiked on boats or some have been brought here on purpose and are now just a pest,” said Tech. Sgt. Amber Palmer, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management specialist. “The local wildlife isn’t used to them so they’ll eat the native birds and frogs.”

Once a week, the pest management shop heads into the 18th MUNS area and follows a GPS course where 18 traps are laid out.

Each trap has a live mouse with food and water with a metal cage separating it from the trapping area. The habu slides in a small hole but can’t get back out, Palmer explained.

“We go around and check each trap and remove the snake,” said Senior Airman James Wheeler, 18th CES pest management specialist. “Then we tie the habu up in a bag, give the mouse more food and water and replace the trap.”

Only the invasive habus are removed. The local Okinawan snakes are released back into the woods.

“It’s important to protect the local ecosystem because it has evolved over millions of years with specific creatures that live here,” said Palmer. “So when you introduce a new creature, it can throw off everything.”

The invasive habus then await pick-up from a member of the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

Palmer explained many people in residential areas try to chase habus, but that’s a bad idea.

“If you see a snake that you think is a habu, stop and back up,” said Palmer. “It sees you as a giant, it doesn’t see you as food and it doesn’t want to attack you, it wants you to go away. So just freeze, back away and 99 percent of the time it will go back into the woods.”

While catching habus may seem routine for the members of the pest management shop, it’s still a very dangerous task.

“It’s always dangerous when you’re dealing with a venomous snake, that’s why we always travel at least in pairs when we’re doing a snake call,” said Palmer. “They can strike approximately half their body length so you always want to keep a good distance, but as long as you’re being careful and you have somebody watching your back it’s pretty safe.”