The title ‘world’s rarest snake’ has passed from the Antiguan racer to the Saint Lucia racer – a species that was once abundant on Saint Lucia’s mainland but today numbers fewer than 20 individuals. Those that survive are confined to a tiny offshore island called Maria Major, having been wiped out from the mainland by mongooses and other invasive alien animals that prey on the snakes.
The world’s rarest snake?
Saint Lucia racer facts
- The Saint Lucia racer is a relatively small, non-venomous snake
- Fewer than 20 individuals remain, making it the world’s rarest snake
- These remaining snakes are confined to one tiny (nine-hectare) islet – Maria Major – situated 800 metres off the Saint Lucia mainland
- Maria Major is also home to 90% of all remaining Saint Lucia whiptail lizards, another critically endangered species
Est. in the wild:
fewer than 20
Although the Saint Lucia racer is severely threatened, the hope is that we can replicate our tremendous success with the Antiguan racer and bring this species back from the brink too.
Nine hectaresSaint Lucia racers are now found only on a single tiny islet called Maria Major.
Under 20of these non-venomous snakes are left in the world.
The Saint Lucia racer was once considered the second most common snake on Saint Lucia. However, following the introduction of small Asian mongooses in the late 19th century the population plummeted. For a ground-dwelling snake that had evolved without any natural predators (and therefore, without any defence mechanisms), the introduction of invasive predators was devastating.
The species was thought to be extinct until 1973, when a small population was discovered clinging to existence on Maria Major. In 1982, the Saint Lucian government declared the Maria Islands as a nature reserve to help protect the remaining Saint Lucia racers and a number of other rare and endemic species also found there; however, because this tiny islet is less than 1 km from Saint Lucia, it remains at risk from invasive species arriving from the mainland.
The vulnerability of the nature reserve was brought to a head in 2017, when a tourism development project proposed a causeway to link the islands with the mainland, which would have literally paved the way for predators to invade this crucial natural refuge.
How FFI is helping to save the Saint Lucia racer
The remaining Saint Lucia racers must be protected and their range expanded beyond a single islet to ensure a sustainable future in the long term.
In partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and national agencies, Fauna & Flora International set up an emergency project to protect the remaining racers from alien invasive predators and spread the word about their importance.
We also supported local partners in campaigning against the proposed causeway to the Maria Islands.
In the longer term, we plan to reintroduce captive-bred snakes to additional, predator-free sites to help boost the population. We aim to increase the Saint Lucia racer population to at least 500 individuals across at least three locations by 2024.
Species on the brink
Almost 8,000 species of fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal and bird are officially categorised as globally threatened, and over 9,600 tree species are in danger of extinction.