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World’s rarest snake back from the brink of extinction

Posted on: 02.11.10 (Last edited) 19 July 2011

Fauna & Flora International announces ten-fold increase in Antiguan racer snake population, thanks to our work with local and international partners.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is proud to say that the tide has turned for the planet’s most endangered snake. A new census of the Antiguan racer snake  has revealed that the population has dramatically spiked from just 50 individuals in the mid-nineties to over 500 today.

The success story is thanks to the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project, which enjoys its 15th anniversary this year. FFI founded the initiative with several other local and international organisations in 1995.

The Antiguan racer was being eaten to extinction by alien rats and mongoose, and was even killed by humans. The few that survived were on just one small island, off the coast of Antigua.

The partners have worked together to save the species. Our nation-wide environmental education has helped the  snakes to become accepted, even liked, by local residents and visitors.

We have also removed rats from 12 offshore islands and carried out a captive breeding programme. Through careful re-introduction of individual snakes, the area occupied by the Antiguan racer has been boosted eight-fold to 63 hectares.  Trained local volunteers monitor the wildlife and keep their islands rat-free.

“I am proud we proved the pessimists wrong, and turned the fortunes of this unique and endearing animal”, said Dr Jenny Daltry, FFI Senior Conservation Biologist.

“Many people have contributed over the years, but special credit must go to the local volunteers. This success is a testament to their dedication.”

Remarkably, the snake conservation efforts have also benefited other native wildlife, with the number of birds having increased by 30-fold in 15 years.

For example, Caribbean brown pelicans have increased from only two breeding pairs to more than 60 pairs on the first islands to be restored. Rare white-crowned pigeons have exploded from five pairs to more than 450 pairs.

Sea turtles and lizards have also benefitted from reduced predation of their eggs by rats and even the plant life has improved.

The Antiguan racer still faces many challenges, including global sea level rise. But a new action plan is being developed which is expected to find additional areas where the snakes can be re-established and protected.

Photo credits: JennyDaltry/FFI

Conservationists have made incredible progress in saving the rarest snake on the planet, the Antiguan racer (scientific name: Alsophis antiguae). The population has dramatically spiked from just 50 individuals in the mid-nineties to over 500 today.

The ten-fold increase is due to the successful partnership of six local and international organizations that make up the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project. The initiative has carried out nation-wide environmental education, the removal of alien rats that attacked the snakes and a pioneering captive breeding and reintroduction programme. Remarkably, the snake conservation efforts have also benefited other native wildlife, with the number of birds having increased by 30-fold in 15 years.

Research by British and Antiguan scientists in 1995 discovered only 50 Antiguan racers survived, all confined to the 8-hectare, Great Bird Island, off the coast of Antigua. The mongoose, an Asian species introduced by humans, wiped out the snakes from mainland Antigua, while Eurasian black rats, another alien species, continued to attack the last of the species on Great Bird Island. The defenceless snakes were also killed by people. Hence, the creation of the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project was an emergency bid to save the critically endangered species from imminent extinction.

Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the Project has removed rats from 12 offshore islands and increased the snake population by ten-fold. Through careful re-introduction of individual snakes, the area occupied by the Antiguan racer has been boosted eight-fold to 63 hectares. The snakes have become accepted, even liked, by local residents and visitors. Trained local volunteers monitor the wildlife and keep their islands rat-free. The Antiguan racer still faces many challenges, including global sea level rise, but a new action plan is being developed which is expected to find additional areas where the snakes can be re-established and protected.

“I am proud we proved the pessimists wrong, and turned the fortunes of this unique and endearing animal”, said Dr Jenny Daltry,

Conservationists have made incredible progress in saving the rarest snake on the planet, the Antiguan racer (scientific name: Alsophis antiguae). The population has dramatically spiked from just 50 individuals in the mid-nineties to over 500 today.

The ten-fold increase is due to the successful partnership of six local and international organizations that make up the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project. The initiative has carried out nation-wide environmental education, the removal of alien rats that attacked the snakes and a pioneering captive breeding and reintroduction programme. Remarkably, the snake conservation efforts have also benefited other native wildlife, with the number of birds having increased by 30-fold in 15 years.

Research by British and Antiguan scientists in 1995 discovered only 50 Antiguan racers survived, all confined to the 8-hectare, Great Bird Island, off the coast of Antigua. The mongoose, an Asian species introduced by humans, wiped out the snakes from mainland Antigua, while Eurasian black rats, another alien species, continued to attack the last of the species on Great Bird Island. The defenceless snakes were also killed by people. Hence, the creation of the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project was an emergency bid to save the critically endangered species from imminent extinction.

Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the Project has removed rats from 12 offshore islands and increased the snake population by ten-fold. Through careful re-introduction of individual snakes, the area occupied by the Antiguan racer has been boosted eight-fold to 63 hectares. The snakes have become accepted, even liked, by local residents and visitors. Trained local volunteers monitor the wildlife and keep their islands rat-free. The Antiguan racer still faces many challenges, including global sea level rise, but a new action plan is being developed which is expected to find additional areas where the snakes can be re-established and protected.

“I am proud we proved the pessimists wrong, and turned the fortunes of this unique and endearing animal”, said Dr Jenny Daltry, FFI Senior Conservation Biologist. “Many people have contributed over the years, but special credit must go to the local volunteers. This success is a testament to their dedication.”

Removing rats from a dozen offshore islands has benefitted many other Antiguan species beyond the snake. For example, Caribbean brown pelicans have increased from only two breeding pairs to more than 60 pairs on the first islands to be restored, while rare white-crowned pigeons have exploded from five pairs to more than 450 pairs. Sea turtles and lizards have also benefitted from reduced predation of their eggs by rats and even the plant life has improved.

FFI Senior Conservation Biologist. “Many people have contributed over the years, but special credit must go to the local volunteers. This success is a testament to their dedication.”


[R1]Feel like we need to introduce main players sooner in release. Too much to list all six names

[Anon2]Deliberately avoid words like eradicate or kill because one of our main sponsors, Disney, does not wish to be associated with slaughtering small furry animals!

[R3]Just need one unit

Written by
Rebecca Foges

Rebecca has been working at FFI since September 2007. Though she studied conservation in her BA and MSc, she decided that the life in the jungle just wasn't for her. Having grown up in New York City, she has experienced more pigeons and squirrels than parrots and spider monkeys. So she decided to write about the impact that FFI's projects have on the ground. Her current role as Communications Officer (Business & Biodiversity) has allowed her to focus her energy towards FFI's innovative Business & Biodiversity Programme. Rebecca helps to get the message out about FFI's strategic corporate partnerships and what they have helped to achieve for global biodiversity.

Other posts by Rebecca Foges

I am proud we proved the pessimists wrong, and turned the fortunes of this unique and endearing animal.

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