Thousands of rare, threatened and endangered Hawaiian snails were moved from their home at a trailer in Kailua to a new, lab facility in Pearl City Thursday morning, in a transfer that caretakers have dubbed, “The Great Snail Bail.”
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources reports the 8,000 snails represent 38 critically imperiled species. For the past seven years, Dr. David Sischo who runs the state’s Snail Extinction Prevention Program, and his team, have cared for the snails from a small trailer.
Supervising the transfer, Sischo observed, “We had the last individuals in the world of some of these species, all in boxes, traveling over the H-3. These snails may be small, but they are no less important than large charismatic endangered species like monk seals. Imagine moving 8,000 monk seals.”
The effort involved the use of 10 vehicles. “While this was likely the largest and fastest snail migration ever, in all seriousness these are precious public trust resources. They are jewels of the Hawaiian forest and serve like canaries in the coal mine in forewarning us of the health of native forests. A more apt phrase would be they serve as the snails in the forest,” Sischo said.
The team conducting the operation realized that having most of the remaining, extremely rare snail species all in vehicles at the same time created some real vulnerabilities. They took precautions to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of the snails, including having back-up vehicles and officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) tagging along in case any problems were to arise.
At the Pearl City lab, the team formed a second human chain to move all 170 boxes of snails into their new home. “The new lab doubles our capacity for rearing snails,” Sischo said.
For Thursday night, the temperature in the lab has been lowered to duplicate the environmental chambers that simulate conditions found in the mountainous areas of five islands where the snails are/were found in the wild. Two chambers are already in the lab, with eight more to be moved on Friday.
Earlier this year, Governor Josh Green, M.D. proclaimed this the Year of the Kāhuli. “Native Hawaiian land snails are getting some of the attention they deserve, and it helps that the Great Snail Bail coincides with other events and programs throughout 2023 to bring attention to their plight,” according to a DLNR news release.
“Sischo and the snail team are relieved the Snail Bail went off without a hitch and they’re considering submitting today’s feat to the Guinness Book of World Records. It could create a new record category—fastest snails on Earth,” the DLNR release stated.