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Antiguan racer

Latin name: Alsophis antiguae

IUCN Red List conservation status

About: Antiguan racer

The Antiguan Racer Conservation Project began in 1995, when FFI responded to a call for help from Antiguan naturalist Kevel Lindsay. Incredibly, some conservationists advised us against intervention, because the snake was too rare and unpopular. I am so glad we have proved the doubters wrong, and helped to turn the fortunes of this unique and lovely animal.

Dr Jenny Daltry

FFI Senior Conservation Biologist

An image relating to Antiguan racer

Dubbed the ‘world’s rarest snake’ in 1995, when only 50 individuals remained, the Antiguan racer has been making a steady comeback with Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) help.

Antiguan racers used to be the top predators throughout Antigua until Asian mongooses were released by British plantation owners in the 1890s, which wiped out most of the snakes. The species was declared extinct in the 1930s, but a few survived on Great Bird Island, an 8.4 hectare cay that had luckily remained mongoose-free.

By eradicating alien invasive species and re-introducing the racers, the range of the Antiguan racer has been increased to four islands, with a total area of 63 hectares. A census in 2013 recorded just over 1,000 racers, a twenty-fold increase since conservation efforts began.

Although good progress has been made, the Antiguan racer and its habitat remain at constant risk, due to the rising numbers of visitors and the chronic threat from alien invasive species and coastal development.

Antiguan racer facts

  • Not so fast! Despite their name, these racers are actually rather slow. They prey on four endemic species of lizards, which they catch by ambushing
  • The Antiguan racer is one of very few snakes in which males can be distinguished from females by their colour. Their colouration also changes dramatically with age. Every individual is unique
  • These placid snakes are harmless to humans. Their only defence is to emit a musky smell when frightened
  • Most of the Antiguan racers are implanted with microchip tags, both for security purposes and to monitor their growth and survival
  • Racers should never be taken as pets. They are difficult to feed and are exceptionally prone to common infections
  • The racers have become severely inbred and depend on conservationists to circulate fresh blood lines between the islands
  • The Antiguan racer has wrongly been declared extinct twice. The first time in 1936, and again in 2009!
  • The correct scientific name of the Antiguan racer is Alsophis antiguae. Some scientists consider the snakes on Great Bird Island to be a separate subspecies, but this is disputed
  • Threats: mongooses, rats and other alien invasive predators, hurricanes and sea level rise, disturbance and habitat damage by tourists and local recreational users

Antiguan racers have become an unusual flagship species for conservation in Antigua and Barbuda, and feature prominently in the national schools’ environmental education curriculum. Many Antiguans have become rightly proud of their unique snake and its unique island ecosystem.

Learn more about the first few years of our work to conserve the Antiguan racer: www.antiguanracer.org

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Did you know?

After eradicating alien rats and mongooses from a dozen offshore islands to conserve the Antiguan racer, some of the bird colonies on the islands have increased by more than 30-fold! The species that have benefited include many regional rarities, such as the West Indian whistling duck and Caribbean brown pelican.

How you can help

If you visit Antigua, shop around to select the more environmentally-friendly hotels and tour operators. Let them know you are interested in native wildlife and do complain if you see bad practices. If you visit the offshore islands, make sure your clothes and belongings are clean of any seeds, insects or other stowaways that could harm the natural ecosystem. A donation to FFI or the Environmental Awareness Group, large or small, will also help us to conserve the racer and its habitat.

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Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is a company limited by guarantee, incorporated in England and Wales, Registered Company Number 2677068. Registered Charity Number 1011102
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