The U.S. Military Accidentally Brought a Snake to Guam That’s Destroying Wildlife

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The island’s wildlife has been a casualty of the military presence.

Since North Korea threatened to fire missiles into the water around Guam, much has been made of the island’s strategic importance. It is the westernmost U.S. territory; it is home to two existing military bases-for the air force and the navy-and a planned third, for the marines.

The U.S. retook Guam from the Japanese in World War II, and the military has been an outsized and sometimes controversial presence on the island ever since.

These geopolitical circumstances have physically remade the island-a third of which is under U.S. military control. It has meant the dredging of wharves for the navy’s ships, the construction of housing for thousands of U.S. soldiers, and a planned live-fire range right next to the island’s national wildlife refuge.

And then there are the snakes.

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Sometime in the years right after WWII, as military planes were flying in and out of Guam, a species called the brown tree snake hitched a ride from the South Pacific. It grows several feet long and feeds on small mammals, lizards, and birds. On the island, this invasive predator found easy prey. It feasted on Micronesian kingfishers and Mariana fruit doves and rufous fantails; in just a few decades, it ate 10 out of 12 native forest-bird species off the face of the island.

“It’s a really eerie feeling to spend a day by yourself in the jungle on Guam,” a scientist told the BBC recently. There are no bird songs, no mating calls, no chattering.