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'Extinct' Caribbean snake sighted in St Lucia

The gentle, speckled brown non-venomous snake was previously abundant in St. Lucia.

Once believed to be extinct, slithery brown snakes have been discovered living in a nature reserve on a small isle just off the east Caribbean island of St. Lucia, conservationists said Tuesday.

After an extensive search, 11 St. Lucia Racers, believed to the world's most endangered snakes were sighted and tagged by a team of international scientists in the Maria Islands reserve, a part of St. Lucia located about one kilometer (0.6 miles) south of the main island, declared the British-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT).

According to scientists estimate, a total of 18 of the species now live on the reserves.

Matthew Morton, Durrell's Eastern Caribbean programme manager stated, "In one sense it is a very worrying situation, with such a small population restricted to a single, tiny site. But in another sense, it's an opportunity ... It means that we still have a chance to save this species."

The St. Lucia racer whose length is only 1 meter was declared extinct in 1936 and remained so for nearly 40 years.

Declared extinct in 1936
The gentle, speckled brown non-venomous snake was previously abundant in St. Lucia. Its population was almost completely decimated when mongooses were brought to St. Lucia in the 19th century.

The St. Lucia racer whose length is only 1 meter was declared extinct in 1936 and remained so for nearly 40 years. However, the extinct status was revoked after a single snake was spotted in the rocky reserves in 1973. Since then, only isolated sightings of St Lucia Racer have been reported.

A team of six scientists and several volunteers painstakingly searched the rocky steep sided islet for the endangered snake. After five months the conservationists found some snakes during the day, looking for lizards and frogs to feed upon.

Eleven racers were caught, implanted with microchips and then released unharmed.

Morton stated, “Durrell has been committed to working with Saint Lucia’s most threatened species for the last 30 years and so it was a huge relief to confirm that a population of the racer still survives, but that relief is tempered by the knowledge of how close we still are to losing it forever."

Efforts to save the species underway
The DWCT, together with Fauna & Flora International, the Saint Lucia National Trust, and the Saint Lucia Forestry Department are working on ways to save the species.

Shifting the reptile to St Lucia's main island is not an option because it will be targeted by the mongoose, its biggest predator.

However, in order to secure their future, researchers are seriously contemplating breeding the snakes in other habitats.

"Tens if not hundreds of West Indian animals have already been lost because humans have unwisely released harmful species from other parts of the world, and we cannot allow the gentle Saint Lucia racer to be the next casualty", says Jenny Daltry, Senior Conservation Biologist with Fauna & Flora International.