HONOLULU (KHON2) — A stowaway skunk that was captured alive at Honolulu Harbor on Wednesday, June 22 raised the question of how often illegal animals are captured in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s unique ecosystem is not prepared for every species and some can be detrimental to the environment.

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Tarantulas, snakes and even bearded dragons are just some of the creatures that the Hawaii Department of Agriculture focuses its efforts on. Officials said a new species of pest is found every month in Hawaii and while they are mostly insects, reptiles are certainly a point of focus.

“People think sometimes they want to have a pet, I used to have, you know, a snake when I lived in Africa,” said Dr. Helmuth Rogg, HDOA Plant Industry Division administrator.

“But this is unfortunately not the right place here in Hawaii to have animals that are not from here.”

Dr. Helmuth Rogg, HDOA Plant Industry Division administrator

The Hawaii Wildlife Center said another invasive species — the mongoose — is responsible for many of the injured, native birds that they treat.

“Mongoose are very aggressive and we get mongoose-injured birds of all kinds, sea birds and water birds,” said Linda Elliott, Hawaii Wildlife Center president. “They’ve been hugely detrimental to populations here.”

Another focus at the HDOA is the brown tree snake. The last one caught in Hawaii was in 1998, but they have decimated native bird species on Guam and officials are working hard to keep that from happening in Hawaii.

And when I got there, went into the forest. It was devastating because of the silence you don’t realize on the day-to-day basis. The birds you hear outside all the time in your yard, you just, they’re in the background, but when it’s taken away, it’s eerie.”

Linda Elliott, Hawaii Wildlife Center president

The HDOA said working with shipping companies is critical, especially when officials deal with food products.

“They know the drill in a way,” Dr. Rogg said. “Because a lot of the times they alert us in the first place and say, ‘hey, we saw something on our vessel, can you guys help us?'”

“We do have the authority to board a vessel if we have any suspicion, but in general, what we look for is the risk, for instance, agriculture produce being shipped to Hawaii,” Dr. Rogg said.

According to the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, the importance of this work can not be stressed enough.

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“The cheapest way to deal with an invasive species is to prevent it from getting here in the first place and that work is more critical than I think I could express,” said Franny Brewer, acting program manager of the BIISC.