Snakes on an Island
What would Saint Patrick do? The snakes are back. The New York Times recently reported that Ireland is now home to a growing number of abandoned pet snakes. After Ireland’s economic boom went bust, status symbol serpents became too expensive to maintain. Some of their owners just let their pythons, boas, and rat snakes go to fend for themselves, leading one young Dubliner to found a National Exotic Animal Sanctuary.
Although legend has it that he expelled all the snakes from Ireland in the fifth century, Saint Patrick would probably approve. Surely he would pity the more recently forsaken serpents. He knew a thing or two about making an unplanned visit to the emerald isle. Saint Patrick, after all, wasn’t Irish. He was born into a family of Roman colonial officials in Britain but as a boy of sixteen was captured by Irish raiders. They took him back to Ireland as a slave where he was put to work herding sheep for six years before he managed to escape and make his way home. Only later did he feel called by faith to return to Ireland as a missionary. Scientists, in any case, suggest that Ireland never did have a population of snakes, making the story of St. Patrick’s accomplishment more likely to be symbolic of his work to cast out pagans—not Pythons.
The island that could really use a little of the Saint Patrick magic is Guam. Since the end of World War II when U.S. military ships brought a plague of brown snakes to the tiny territory, Guam has been overrun by them. Local bird species had never developed defenses against snakes and are nearly extinct. And now the birds’ traditional prey—spiders—are forty times more prevalent than in the past. The slithery varmints also snap electrical lines, stage home invasions, and bite babies. The snake doesn’t stop there either: the snakes on a plane scenario has led to fears that Hawaii (another snakeless wonder) could be their next stop. Thus the U.S. Department of Defense has concocted a plan to strew poisoned mice into the trees of Guam to tempt the brown snakes to their deaths. How very Old Testament.
On most days, the poisoned mice plan might best be described as a Hail Mary pass given how defenseless the world has become to the phenomenon of invasive species. And indeed, Santa Marian Kamalen is the Patron of Guam. But on Saint Patrick’s Day, they say that everyone is Irish. Surely that includes the people of Guam. May Saint Patrick grant them the luck of the Irish, and a snake free future.