The Racer Snake Conservation Project
The Antiguan racer is probably the world’s rarest snake. This small, harmless, lizard-eating snake was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. It is thought that only around 100 individuals now survive, on Bird Island, a small island off the coast of Antigua and even this tiny population was damaged by the recent Hurricane Georges.
Since 1995, the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project (ARCP) has endeavoured to save this harmless snake from extinction by using a combination of education, conservation breeding, habitat restoration, local capacity building and applied research. Dr Jenny Daltry was 28 years old when she was awarded the Whitley Award. A British wildlife conservation biologist, she has since 1995 worked hard with ARCP to save the species from extinction. Originally a student at Bristol and Aberdeen Universities, she has experience of endangered snakes across tropical Asia and the West Indies. In the time she has been working with the Antiguan racer, the population has roughly doubled largely as a result of conservation measures such as the eradication of the introduced black rat. However, Bird Island, the main project site, can only sustain a small population of racers, so the next stage in the protection of this species is to introduce it to other, ecologically similar islands nearby. Such a reintroduction will go hand in hand with exercises to educate local people and tourists to reduce the numbers of snakes killed, and the training of local teams in essential field techniques.
The Antiguan racer’s ecology and population dynamics have become well understood after 5 years of intensive study, and the species has evidently benefited from the project’s rat eradication programme. However, the snakes are still seriously threatened by other intrinsic and extrinsic factors, including inbreeding depression, frequent hurricanes, invasive predators and deliberate killing by tourists as well as the problem that Great Bird Island is too small to support more than about 100 individuals.
Jenny Daltry has already achieved the preservation of the Antiguan racer: there is no doubt that without her energy and commitment it would by now be extinct. She hopes that his project will not only save this particular creature but also serve as a model for the conservation of other endangered reptiles.
April 2001 – Five years of conserving the ‘world’s rarest snake’, the Antiguan RacerAlsophis antiguae
Jenny co-authored an article for the April 2001 edition of Oryx, the journal of Flora and Fauna International, about her project. Click here to read it.