Weapon of mass extinction
At Dodo Creek, east of Honiara, the destructive giant African snails are dying in their droves.
Their empty shells littered the landscape as the vegetation sprawl back into life again.
“This is a miracle,” says Francesco Colin, a mother of four.
“We are now planting again because the African snails have gone, they’re dead,” she added.
Tiny, fragile, and harmless looking worms were responsible for the mass extinction of this invasive pest, which wreaked havoc when it landed on our shores back in 2007.
The worms emerged in the Dodo Creek and Fox Wood area after the April flooding in Honiara and Guadalcanal plains.
“They appeared so suddenly after the floods and were all over our houses,” Colin recalled.
“They looked harmless, but a bit scary.
“They came in their thousands and were climbing all over our houses, on the roofs and walls.
“Sometimes, you wake up in the night and felt them on your bed and blankets.
“We killed some of them and drove them out from our houses.”
But then Colin and the other villagers started to notice something else.
Outside, they realisedthe giant African snails were also dying in numbers.
“When we checked out the snails, we found out the worms were inside their shells.
“What they did was they crawled into the shells and in the process killed the snails.
“In some shells, there were three to four worms inside.”
As the weeks passed, the villagers came to realise that there were no more live African snails in the nearby bushes.
What they saw instead were empty shells lying under the trees and bananas around the homes.
“This is just unbelievable,” said AtalynSasarau, who is a neighbour of Colin.
“I think God felt sorry for us and sent these worms to come and kill the snails,” she added.
According to Sasarau, since the giant African snails invaded their area in 2009, they could not plant anything.
“The snails eat everything we plant. They eat our cabbages, potatoes, melons, peanuts, just about any crop you plant.
“The Quarantine people came and worked with us to kill the snails, but it was not successful.
“The snail population increases every day.
“We used to go to Honiara to sell vegetables. Since the snails came, we were unable to do that because we have no vegetables to sell.
“The snails cut off our source of income,” Sasarau said.
Now that the snails are disappearing, Sasarau and her husband Stephen, as well as the villagers of Dodo Creek are hard at work planting again.
“Look at my cassava garden there,” Sasarau told the Sunday Star as she pointed to the young plants.
“Since I’ve planted them, not a single African snail came into my garden. They were dead and gone,” she said.
Colin recently planted a new peanut plot and nurtured some Chinese cabbage seeds, which she will soon transplant to her garden.
She said since the worms came and drove the African snails away, not a single snail disturbed her nursery or the plot of peanut she recently planted.
“We believe the worms are the answer to killing and getting rid of the giant African snails,” Collin said.
The villagers have not formally informed the Quarantine Division about the mass extinction of the snails.
Last Wednesday, the Sunday Star visited Dodo Creek and Fox Wood, and confirmed eye-witness accounts of the situation.
We also brought some of the worms and handed them over to the Quarantine Division for their examination and study.
JaphetTawo, who worked at the Quarantine laboratory at Henderson, received the worms from our team.
He was amazed at the story we relayed to him and his colleagues at the lab.
“If this works, the wormwill be the new weapon we will use to kill the African snails,” Tawo said.
He in the past seven years, the Quarantine Division had used poison to kill the snails.
“The use of poison was the only effective measure we took as part of our eradication exercise,” Tuwo said.
But while the poison killed the snails that came to feed on them, it was unable to eradicate or stop the snails from populating.
Tuwo said he and his colleagues will visit the Dodo Creek and Fox Wood area in the coming days to talk to the people about this new development.
How the snails came
The giant African snails were first discovered in the Ranadi area in 2007.
It was believed Malaysian logging company Earthmovers brought the invasive pest into the country with used machineries it imported.
For a while, the snails were confined to the Ranadi area. But it soon spread out to other suburbs in Honiara.
From Honiara, the snails moved into the Guadalcanal plains, in particular to the Dodo Creek and Fox Wood area.
There were also reported sightings in recent years in Makira, Western, and Malaita provinces.
At one stage, the Quarantine Division engaged up to 200 casual workers to apply poisonous bait as part of its eradication exercise.
This was done between Honiara and Fox Wood.
Giant African snail
The African giant snail feeds on more than 500 plant species and is proven to be one of the more destructive pests in the world.
With each snail laying between 300 to 400 eggs, every 3 months, the Quarantine Division has a major battle at hand to keep snail numbers low.
BY OFANI EREMAE