More than monkey business

St Kitts and Nevis – or, more formally, the Federation of St Christopher and Nevis – is the smallest sovereign state in the western hemisphere in both land area and population. Less than three kilometres apart, the islands are shaped like an exclamation mark, with Nevis forming the dot.

Both islands are mountainous, with their highest peaks often shrouded in cloud. The tallest peak is the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga – previously called Mount Misery – at 1,176 metres above sea level.

In many ways this country is the picture-postcard paradise, with fertile soils, a rich cultural heritage, and a liberal amount of sun, sea and sand. Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy, with over one million visitors every year, most of them arriving on cruise ships.

Among the attractions touted for tourists are the opportunities for selfies with monkeys, although they are a long way from home. Green vervet monkeys were brought from Africa as pets in the 17th century and have since become very abundant, probably outnumbering the human population. They are unpopular with most residents, especially farmers who can lose as much as 90% of their crops to monkey damage. Their impact in the forest is equally serious, as these omnivorous primates are rapidly driving native plants and animals to extinction.

Other exotic mammals on St Kitts and Nevis include high densities of rats, mongooses, white-tailed deer, feral pigs and tens of thousands of feral donkeys. Although many local people are calling for these animals to be controlled for the sake of their livelihoods and their natural environment, most attempts to remove the animals have been shut down by international animal welfare organisations.

Only one site in St Kitts and Nevis, Booby Island, appears to be free from the non-native mammals. This forms a vital refuge for native species despite being only one hectare in size.

Other challenges facing conservationists in St Kitts and Nevis include garbage, removal of coastal dry forests – the most threatened habitat type in the Caribbean – and limited capacity to address the islands’ environmental needs. Among the species lost to date are the lansan tree, Lesser Antillean iguana, red-bellied racer, St Kitts bulllfinch and several species of rice rat.

St Kitts and Nevis facts
Country in Americas & Caribbean

Size:

261 km²

Population (2017 est.):

52,715

GDP per capita (2016 est.):

US$25,913

Less than three kilometres apart, the islands are shaped like an exclamation mark, with Nevis forming the dot.

5

The total number of forest rangers in St Kitts and Nevis in 2017.

Caribs

The inhabitants of St Kitts and Nevis when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493 — and the source of the words Caribbean and cannibals.

Our work to conserve St Kitts and Nevis’s biodiversity

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) first worked in St Kitts and Nevis on a 13-week bat survey in 1999, which led to the first field guide to the bats of this country and provided valuable information on their status and distribution for the first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

In 2016 and 2017, FFI was invited back to St Kitts and Nevis to support a more comprehensive survey of the country’s biodiversity in collaboration with the national government, UNDP, the Environmental Awareness Group of Antigua and Montana State University. The nationwide survey encompassed vascular plants, invertebrates, freshwater fish, bats, reptiles, amphibians and birds, as well as social knowledge, needs and attitudes towards biodiversity. Our team also provided some introductory training in identification and monitoring techniques to local rangers and students. The findings highlighted the shocking impacts of monkeys and other non-native mammals on native flora and fauna, but also identified sites in urgent need of protection and practical measures to help native wildlife to recover.

Learn more about our work in St Kitts and Nevis