Friday, July 13, 2012


Conservationists have found the world’s rarest known snake in the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia. A five-month assessment of the Saint Lucia racer, a small non-venomous snake, has revealed that as few as 18 individuals remain. The racer was once common across Saint Lucia, but rapidly declined after predatory mongooses were introduced to Saint Lucia from India in the late 19th century. The last Saint Lucia racers now survive only on a single offshore islet just 12 hectares (30 acres) in size, which has remained mongoose-free.

The Saint Lucia racer, one of four endemic snakes of Saint Lucia, was declared extinct in 1936. However, in 1973, a single individual was caught on Maria Islands Nature Reserve. Since then, sightings have been rare, leading to fears that these harmless snakes may have been lost forever. Towards the end of 2011, a team of Saint Lucian and international conservationists was assembled to find out whether the racers still survived and, with funding from the Balcombe Trust, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, began painstaking searches of the rocky, steep-sided islet. Eleven racers were caught, tagged with microchips and released unharmed. Analysis of data from recaptures indicate a total population of only 18 individuals. Another, less conservative method placed the population at nearer 100. The Saint Lucia racer is therefore deemed to be the rarest known snake in the world and indeed one of the rarest animals of any kind. At only 12 hectares, its distribution range is also one of the smallest of any snake.

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Image from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

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