JEFFERSON — Reptile specialist Gerald Andrejcak told NJ.com Friday that the giant snake loose in Lake Hopatcong is a green anaconda — though he’d previously only called it a boa constrictor — and that he was “sworn to secrecy” by a local animal control official to avoid causing a panic.
“It’s a green anaconda,” Andrejcak said. “I’ve known its species (since last week), but I was sworn to keep my mouth shut by local officials to avoid causing a panic. Now that there’s a panic, I’m going on the record.”
Over the last few weeks, media reports about the snake have been common, boaters have been out looking for the snake and local residents have expressed concern over their safety.
Andrejcak said it’s “not a lie to say it’s a boa because it’s a member of the boa family.
Andrejcak, who saw the snake when he entered the boat house of a South New Avenue property by kayak Thursday before entering the water, said the snake’s head was about as large as his hand. He estimated the body to be about 15 to 16 feet in length.
The snake quickly went underwater and evaded capture by swimming past Andrejcak’s leg, he said.
Andrejcak, Jefferson Township animal control officer Naomi Modafferi and Steve Vil, Andrejcak’s assistant, searched boat houses, a storm drain and areas of the shoreline on both the mainland and Halsey Island Thursday morning into the afternoon, but they were unable to capture the snake or spot the animal after Andrejcak’s initial brush with it.
Andrejcak, who has a degree in zoology and more than 20 years experience handling and breeding large snakes, said he began following the snake sightings via news reports and Facebook last week, and said Hopatcong animal control officer Dale Sloat subsequently reached out to him last week to ask for his help.
Based on the behavior exhibited by the snake and descriptions of the snake’s appearance, Andrejcak said, he told Sloat it was an anaconda. Andrejcak said he believes it is a green anaconda based on seeing the snake in the boat house Thursday.
Green anacondas are “pound for pound” the largest snakes in the world and can grow to be more than 29 feet in length and weigh more than 550 pounds, according to an animal fact sheet on NationalGeographic.com.
“Anacondas live in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, mainly in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins,” according to National Geographic. “They are cumbersome on land, but stealthy and sleek in the water. Their eyes and nasal openings are on top of their heads, allowing them to lay in wait for prey while remaining nearly completely submerged.”
After Andrejcak told Sloat his suspicions about the type of snake last week, Sloat asked him not to disclose the species or to tell anyone, Andrejcak said.
Sloat has not yet responded to messages left Thursday and Friday seeking comment regarding the species of snake, or about recent efforts to find the snake. Sloat has previously advised residents to avoid threatening the snake.
“You don’t want to touch it,” Sloat told recently CBS. “You don’t want to go towards it. You don’t want to threaten it. It’s not going to come at a person unless it’s threatened, cornered, caugh — then, it will squeeze you to death. This big a snake would be aggressive.”
In an email sent to NJ.com Tuesday, Sloat expressed skepticism about reports of the snake.
“So far we have been told there were sightings, but no pictures. In the boat house the owners say they saw it the night before and called in the morning. The snake either was never there or it was gone before we got there,” he wrote. “No officials have seen this snake, and you know how people exaggerate.”
He said Andrejcak and the animal control officer should be left to do their job without interference, to protect people’s safety.
Tony Colantonio, who rents a property on the lake where he said he’s seen the snake numerous times, said no one from the township or the state believed him about it over the past two weeks. He said the snake — and the local response to it — has caused him a lot of stress.
“(This information) needs to be out there,” Colantonio said. “There’s kids swimming in the lake, there’s going to be people in the water this weekend, and my kids can’t go in their backyard. It’s a green anaconda, a predator, hunting all day every day. It’s not a python that lives 80 percent of its life on land and only needs to eat once a month. It’s one of the most aggressive snakes out there. It’s been two weeks and (the township and state) have done nothing. Everybody I call just blows me off.”
Andrejcak said he has been trying to get the animal on his days off — and at no cost to Colantonio, the township or the state — because of his “love for the animal.”
“It’s my intention to get this thing out before someone kills it,” he said.
He said he’s afraid that the increased local response will cause it to flee its current territory.
“My biggest fear is that (locals) are going to chase it to another part of the lake,” he said.
Andrejcak previously said a storm drain adjacent to Colantonio’s property had likely served as a bed for the snake as it was hot and humid, and there was evidence the snake had used vegetation within the drain for bedding.
Andrejcak told NJ.com Friday he was frustrated by a lack of response by municipal officials. Andrejcak said he spoke with Sloat about a week ago, when the animal control officer asked for his advice for the situation. Andrejcak said he asked Sloat to modify trash cans as traps for the snake before he came up to search for the snake on Thursday.
When he showed up on Thursday, Andrejcak said, he was surprised that the cans hadn’t been purchased.
Modafferi, the animal control officer who assisted Andrejcak with the search, told NJ.com during the search Thursday that she did not have prior experience with large snakes. That, Andrejcak said, was a concern as well.
“I feel for Tony (Colantonio) over this,” Andrejcak said. “It’s turned his life upside down. There were 50 boats out there last night. If this gets resolved quicker, do it, put the information out there.”
Just last night, Colantonio said, a boat was out in the water behind his house shining a “huge spotlight” into the water.
Colantonio does not have as much love for the snake as Andrejcak.
“If someone can kill it and get out of here that’s fine. … I want proof that it’s gone,” he said. “This thing’s been living at my house. I should start charging it rent.”
Colantonio said he has called the Division of Fish and Wildlife several times over the two weeks, but that its representatives hadn’t come out.
But Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Bob Considine told NJ.com he hadn’t learned of a confirmed sighting until Thursday.
“This is the first time I heard about it being in the boat house,” he said. “(Officials from the Division of Fish and Wildlife are) going out there today (Friday).”
Considine said the DEP had spoken with Sloat on Monday, and asked him to reach out regarding any credible sightings. Considine said he wasn’t sure if Sloat had reached out Thursday to the DEP.
Andrejcak has said he believed someone dumped the snake nearby when it became too large or aggressive to care for. Considine said no exotic licenses are permitted for anacondas in New Jersey.
“It’s completely irresponsible,” Andrejcak previously told NJ.com. “You have options like reptile sanctuaries. If you’re going to get a large snake, you have to educate yourself and research the adult size of the animal. There’s a lot of research that needs to be done.”
Andrejcak has said there are still many unknowns in play — whether one snake or several snakes were released into the area, whether the snake (or snakes) could be pregnant, and whether the snake (or snakes) may have given birth recently. Anacondas and other boas do not lay eggs externally, but are “live-bearers,” he said.
Andrejcak has said he’d be able to determine that information quickly once the snake is caught.
If the snake were to evade capture and find a place to hole up, Andrejcak said, it could survive for some time.
“If it finds somewhere to hide like a basement, it can absolutely live through the winter,” he said.
2 thoughts on “Expert: Lake Hopatcong snake an anaconda, but I was ‘sworn to keep my mouth shut’”
Lake Hopatcong is the filthiest, most polluted lake in the state. I doubt the snake will live very long. 😉
Thinking .22 snake shot wont do much…