World’s rarest snake back from the brink of extinction
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