Capture of bird-eating lizard sheds new light on state budget cuts

The Cuban knight anole found in Kailua Wednesday is now in state custody.

A pair of brothers had to keep it for two nights after the state agriculture department said no one was available to pick it up the first night. Scheduling conflicts prevented the brothers from handing over the lizard on Thursday.

The Cuban knight anole isn’t native to Hawaii, but it’s been around Windward Oahu for over 20 years.

“I saw your story last night. I was like, I have seen those lizards. They are ginormous,” said Lanikai resident AJ Jaeger. “They’re scary. They have big mouths, and oh my god.”

Kent Dumlao with the Department of Agriculture tells us the lizard likely started in the illegal pet trade.

“A lot of animals are either smuggled into the state and sometimes they get loose. They do get established and can become a nuisance,” said Dumlao.

The lizards prefer a lush environment, which is why they’re found in Windward Oahu. Officials also say they’re spreading, which could damage the local ecosystem.

“They do feed on small rodents, birds, native insects, and birds and eggs. They can affect our native ecosystem which is very fragile. We ask people be on the lookout for these strange animals and we do have a pest hotline that people can call,” said Dumlao.

The problem is the pest hotline, 643-PEST (7378), is only manned during office hours.

“Due to budget cuts in 2009, our office is open from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” admitted Dumlao.

In 2009, jobs were cut in the Department of Agriculture. Employees tell us there isn’t enough manpower to go around.

“We do wish we had more funding, more support, more manpower in the Department of Agriculture, and our personnel department is doing their best to fill it,” Dumlao said.

But to fill it, the department needs money. We’re told it fields several calls each year on the pest hotline, as well as a host of other duties to protect Hawaii’s native environment.

Employees say the department gets 0.3 percent of the annual state budget, which we brought up to Rep. Chris Lee, D, Waimanalo, Kailua.

“Would you consider putting money back into reinstating these jobs?” KHON2 asked.

“Absolutely. I think it’s something we need to take a look at,” responded Lee. “Every dollar we spend on fighting invasive species now means saving taxpayers money down the road. Because once something proliferates and gets out there, it’s so much harder to fight and eradicate.”

“How soon can we seen that happen?” KHON2 pressed.

“The legislature convenes in January. We are going to be reviewing the governor’s budget and agriculture committees will be taking a look at this. Hopefully we can get a good result,” replied Lee.

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