Discovery of road-crossing coconut crab still a mystery

It was a rare find that still has Salt Lake residents shaking their heads in disbelief.

As KHON2 first reported Monday, a woman found a large — and illegal — coconut crab in her neighborhood.

Holly Cantere was driving home Sunday afternoon with her kids when she saw something on Salt Lake Boulevard that had other motorists stopping and staring.

“Everybody just stopped in the middle of the road, and to see something crawling, I thought it was a remote-controlled type of thing,” she said.

It was actually a 16-inch coconut crab that weighs about three pounds.

Cantere got out of her car to rescue it. “It just kept walking, like there was not a care in the world, when it crossed the street,” she said. “Everybody slowed down like it was a pedestrian.”

With the help of a neighbor, Cantere managed to get the crab inside a box and then called the state Department of Agriculture.

Coconut crabs are illegal in Hawaii and downright dangerous because of their strong claws.

State officials said, before Sunday, the last time a coconut crab was seen in Hawaii was back in 1989.

The maximum penalties for bringing in any illegal animals like this crab are stiff, but it’s still happening, and the dangers they can cause are severe.

Coconut crabs can get up to three feet long and weigh as much as nine pounds. They’re native to islands such as Samoa and Guam, are land dwellers and feed on coconuts.

“They’re able to crack open a coconut,” said department official Trenton Yasui, “and they’re pretty dangerous, so if it got out in the open, it’d be very dangerous for small children and small animals.”

Yasui said coconut crabs will eat just about anything, so they pose a serious threat to our ecosystem, especially ground-nesting birds, turtles and native plants.

The crab was probably smuggled into Hawaii, and Yasui said he doesn’t think there are more out there. “Anything’s possible, but we haven’t had any reports recently, and because these species are very large, it would be kind of hard to miss.”

Fines can be stiff — smuggling illegal animals is a felony with a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison and a $200,000 fine. But the agriculture department has an amnesty program, so violators can turn them in without getting a penalty. The state encourages those with illegal animals to turn them in because letting them loose can cause so much damage.

As for the coconut crab, it will be handed over to the Honolulu Zoo. They can taste good, but only if they’ve been feeding on coconuts, so experts say if you don’t know what it’s been eating, it’s not a good idea to eat the crab.

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