Repelling the invaders
Staff from Fauna & Flora’s in-country partners, the Environmental Awareness Group and the Antiguan Forestry Unit, led a carefully orchestrated rat removal campaign, laying out blocks of poison in a grid pattern across the entire island, including ledges on the precipitous sea cliffs.
After two weeks, there was no further evidence of rodent survivors. Nevertheless, the need for constant vigilance was underlined in early 2001, when fresh tooth marks were found on a water bottle, prompting a follow-up course of treatment.
Dealing with setbacks
Just two years after the rat removal, the Antiguan racer population had doubled, but by 1999 the project had become a victim of its own success, as the snakes ran out of lizards to eat on their microdot in the ocean. With help from Black Hills State University scientists who were studying the nearby lizard populations, other offshore islands suitable for the reintroduction of racers were quickly identified. Having removed rats and mongooses from these potential sanctuaries, the team established new colonies there. The racer population began to boom once more.
It was agreed that a breeding stock of Antiguan racers should be established in captivity as an insurance policy against any unforeseen catastrophe that might befall the wild population. Five adult racers were flown to Jersey, where they were entrusted to the care of experts from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. To everyone’s delight, five fertile eggs laid by the captive females hatched successfully. Then disaster struck in the form of a tiny parasite, the common snake mite, to which the racers proved to have very little resistance. Nine out of the ten snakes died.