The Environmental Awareness Group of Antigua & Barbuda
Raising awareness & promoting sustainable use of natural resources
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.
“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.”
Dr Brian Smith, a Professor in Biology at Black Hills State University, adds, “Working with students in Antigua has been a highlight of my professional career. Being part of an international collaboration to rescue this snake from the brink of extinction has been immensely gratifying”.
“Although the population of the racer has grown by leaps, we cannot stop now”, warns Natalya Lawrence, Programme Coordinator, Environmental Awareness Group. “There is still a need for public awareness, continued monitoring, and stronger laws to protect the snake and other endangered species on our islands.”
Removing rats from a dozen offshore islands has benefitted many other Antiguan species beyond the snake. For example, Caribbean brown pelicans have increased from only two breeding pairs to more than 60 pairs on the first islands to be restored, while 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.
“An important by-product of the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project has been to demonstrate a globally-relevant model for conservation of biodiversity”, said Bruce Potter, President of Island Resources Foundation. “Offshore islands are being turned into reserves where public and private organizations can control invasive species and manage tourism development pressures more effectively”.
In 2006, the offshore islands became part of a major new marine protected area: the North East Marine Management Area. This stunningly beautiful area draws at least 50,000 local and international visitors every year and covers a quarter of Antigua’s coastline, making it the country’s largest protected area for biodiversity conservation.
World’s rarest snake back from the brink of extinction
Tuesday 2 November 2010 - Conservationists have made incredible progress in saving the rarest snake on the planet, the Antiguan racer (scientific name: Alsophis antiguae). The population has dramatically spiked from just 50 individuals in the mid-nineties to over 500 today.
The ten-fold increase is due to the successful partnership of six local and international organizations that make up the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project. The initiative has carried out nation-wide environmental education, the removal of alien rats that attacked the snakes and a pioneering reintroduction programme. Remarkably, the snake conservation efforts have also benefited other native wildlife, with the number of birds having increased by 30-fold in 15 years.
Research by British and Antiguan scientists in 1995 discovered only 50 Antiguan racers survived, all confined to the 8-hectare, Great Bird Island, off the coast of Antigua. The mongoose, an Asian species introduced by humans, wiped out the snakes from mainland Antigua, while another alien species, Eurasian black rats, attacked the last of the species on Great Bird Island. The defenceless snakes were also killed by people. Hence, the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project was launched as an emergency bid to save the critically endangered species from imminent extinction.
Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the Project has removed rats from 12 offshore islands and increased the snake population by ten-fold. Through careful re-introduction of individual snakes, the area occupied by the Antiguan racer has been boosted eight-fold to 63 hectares. The snakes have become accepted, even liked, by local residents and visitors. Trained local volunteers monitor the wildlife and keep their islands rat-free. The Antiguan racer still faces many
Photos taken at the last field trip to Bird Island over the Independence weekend