Is an exotic boa constrictor slithering through Congaree National Park? Or is the reported release of the snake a hoax?
After posting on social media about a possible snake release Sunday, park officials said Tuesday they are still trying to confirm whether the report they received from a visitor is accurate. So far, rangers haven’t seen any signs of a boa constrictor, a non-native snake with a reputation for squeezing prey to death.
“There is a lot we just don’t know,’’ park ranger Jon Manchester said. “We are not even sure if they did release a snake. We hope they didn’t. But we are still looking into this whole situation ourselves.’’
Reports of a boa constrictor release alarmed some people who live near the park and prompted calls from others planning to visit Congaree National, which is busy this time of year with people viewing fireflies.
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The park is safe, officials said. But one former state Department of Natural Resources official questioned Tuesday why the park put anything on Facebook since boa constrictors are not particularly dangerous to people, only the animals they feed on.
“If it isn’t dangerous and you don’t have a lot of faith in the report, why would you tell people?’’ asked Steve Bennett, a retired DNR herpetologist. “You are playing into the hands of someone who might be doing this as a hoax.’’
Park officials said they made the Facebook post after a visitor reported seeing another person in the park holding a boa constrictor. The person reportedly handling the snake, according to the park, told the other visitor that he planned to release the reptile along the boardwalk in the 27,000-acre nature preserve southeast of Columbia.
Park officials, however, were not able to produce a written report Tuesday with any details. Park officials said they did not have the name of the person who reported the possible release.
“The reason we posted that was to let people know that if they come to the park and see something, to tell us,’’ park ranger Greg Cunningham said. “It was more of an information thing.’’
A major concern with releasing an exotic species like the boa constrictor is that it can change the balance of nature. Some exotic species introduced to parts of the U.S. have killed off some of the native species, either by gobbling up native animals or introducing disease. It also is illegal to release some species into national parks.
Boa constrictors, which are native to Central and South America, can reach eight to nine feet long, but they are not considered threats to people. Their diet includes rats, rabbits and other small mammals. The snakes wrap around victims, squeeze them to death, then devour them.
“A big rabbit is about the biggest thing that this snake is going to take,’’ said Clemson University biologist Patrick McMillan. “They also will eat reptiles.’’
Boa constrictors also are not venomous, like three other native species that inhabit Congaree National Park. The boa is a far smaller snake than the Burmese python, an Asian species now showing up in Florida, that can grow to 23 feet.
If officials confirm that a boa constrictor was released into the national park, it likely would be difficult to find because it is well camouflaged to blend in with forests. Boa constrictors are slow moving reptiles that also hang from trees, McMillan said.. If it is confirmed to have been let go in the park, biologists said they expect cold temperatures would eventually kill the tropical snake next winter.
Bennett said that while it’s possible a snake was released, he was skeptical because of the value of exotic snakes. Boa constrictors have become popular exotic pets that can cost hundreds of dollars.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever know the truth until somebody confesses to this,’’ Bennett said.