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Though less than 616 km2 in area, the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. More than 200 species occur nowhere else, including 7 per cent of the resident birds and an incredible 53 per cent of the reptiles.
The nation’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Saint Lucia amazon parrot. Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and Saint Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the 12-hectare Maria Major island, is arguably the world’s most threatened snake following the recent increases in its distant relative on Antigua.
Though Saint Lucia’s rugged, volcanic interior remains thickly forested and healthy coral still abounds offshore, its flatter areas inland have long been cleared for agriculture. The island’s coastal dry forests are increasingly destroyed for tourism development. St Lucia’s biodiversity is also threatened by over 300 alien invasive species (including rapacious mongooses and opossums) and over-exploitation. At least 69 native species have already disappeared.
More than one fifth of Saint Lucia’s 167,000 residents are rated as living in poverty. The Forestry Department is therefore pursuing a policy of integrating livelihoods into the management of the island’s extensive forest resources.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) first began working on Saint Lucia in 2000, when we assisted the Forestry Department and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to eradicate alien rats from Praslin Island to conserve the rare Saint Lucia whiptail lizard.
More recently, FFI was commissioned to conduct the most comprehensive surveys to date of the island’s forests and terrestrial flora and fauna, and identify priorities for conservation. In response to a specific request from the Forestry Department, FFI is currently assisting with a project to manage lansan trees in ways that will benefit the trees and some of the poorest members of society.
FFI first began working in Saint Lucia in 2000 and has been providing technical expertise on the development of forest management systems and biodiversity conservation there since 2008. We are currently helping the Saint Lucia Forestry Department and local communities to develop a sustainable harvesting programme for the lansan tree, a globally threatened rainforest tree whose valuable resin is used for incense in religious ceremonies. Also, in response to a local request, we are developing a new initiative to save the little-known Saint Lucia racer, which is now claimed to be the world’s rarest snake due to predation by Asian mongooses and other alien predators. This project will draw on FFI’s experience of rescuing the distantly related Antiguan racer.