Image: Biosecurity Queensland
Efforts are still underway to locate and capture a two metre South American boa constrictor caught and inadvertently released in nearby bushland.
Police say officers were called to the Esplanade at Surfers Paradise on 26 March 2015 in response to reports of a large snake spotted on a footpath at the base of a tree. The officers subsequently released the reptile into bushland at the Southport Spit.
Since then, Biosecurity Queensland has been working collaboratively with Australian and overseas experts to refine and expand their response capabilities to locate the boa constrictor. The response is being led by Duncan Swan, Principal Biosecurity Officer for Biosecurity Queensland.
Dozens of biosecurity officers and officers from the City of Gold Coast have combed the bushland since searching commenced. “Signs have been erected around the area to warn the public, and help them identify and report the snake should they see it” said Swan.
However, finding the snake will not be an easy task.
“Boa Constrictors have extremely low individual detection rates, and are very difficult to find” said Dr. Robert Reed, Chief of US Geological Survey (USGS) Invasive Species Branch, collaborator and Florida invasive snake researcher. “It is impossible to know how long the snake has been out there. The invasive boa population in Miami has persisted for 30 years in a park smaller than the bushland area on the spit, with only a few individuals captured per year. They can easily reach adulthood in a small wild area without ever being detected.”
“The biggest boa I’ve ever seen weighed more than 40 kg and lived undetected for 3 years on a small, built-up island in the Florida Keys” reports Reed. They’re amazingly good at staying hidden for a long time, even in built up areas”.
According to Dr. Michelle Christy, National Incursion Response Facilitator for Invasive Animals CRC, there is no doubt the snake was either illegally brought to Australia or captive-bred as part of the black market pet trade. However, it is impossible to know at this stage if the boa has recently been released or has been at large for a long time.
And don’t think that because this is a single individual, there is no risk.
A single pregnant female is capable of starting a new population. In fact, the rapidly spreading population in Puerto Rico was almost certainly started by a few young from a single litter.
The response is not just about finding this particular individual. It is also to determine whether the observation is the first sign of a developing population in the area. As Dr. Reed points out, “when dealing with snakes with a very low likelihood of detection, seeing a single animal is worthy of mounting a response”.