SOARING numbers of albino Californian king snakes could wipe out local wildlife on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.
Experts are gathering on the island this week to advise how to control the population explosion, after warnings that the snakes could take over 70% of the island.
Originally brought to Spain as pets, the snakes have been decimating the local bird and lizard species in recent years.
Biologist Ramon Gallo is leading the campaign against the snakes through a project called LIFE+Lampropeltis.
He said that with no natural predators and a mild climate similar to their native California, the snakes are thriving.
“The word plague comes to mind,” said Gallo, adding that in the past eight years more than 2,000 snakes have been captured, and thousands more are living underground.
Although they are not dangerous to humans, the snakes have worryingly developed a taste for the island’s native Gran Canaria giant lizard.
Numbers of the lizard – which is only found on the island – have been reduced by up to 10 times in the areas where the snakes live, according to a recent study.
So far, the snake population is limited to just two areas, of about 25 miles square, in the east and north-western parts of the island – but the snakes can only be contained for so long.
“It’s an outrage,” added Gallo. “This could push the lizard to extinction.”