The world's rarest snake has slithered back from the brink of extinction, with its numbers increasing 10-fold in the past 15 years, conservationists said today.
Researchers found there were just 50 Antiguan racers (Alsophis antiguae) in 1995, all confined to the eight-hectare Great Bird Island, off the coast of Antigua in the Caribbean.
The snake had been wiped out on mainland Antigua by the mongoose, a species from Asia which had been introduced by humans, while the species had been attacked by black rats which had colonised Great Bird Island.
The harmless Antiguan racers were also killed by people.
But work by conservationists in the past 15 years, including eradication of the rats from a dozen offshore islands, an education programme and reintroduction schemes, has boosted the population to more than 500 snakes.
The range of the snake has increased to 63 hectares and other wildlife has also benefited, the conservation groups involved in the project said.
Caribbean brown pelicans have increased from just two breeding pairs to more than 60 pairs on the first islands to be restored, rare white-crowned pigeons have increased from five pairs to more than 450 pairs and sea turtles and lizards have also been boosted by less predation of their eggs by the rats, the wildlife experts said.
Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Jersey-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust are among the groups involved in the project to help the Antiguan racer.
Dr Jenny Daltry, senior conservation biologist at FFI, said: "I am proud we proved the pessimists wrong and turned the fortunes of this unique and endearing animal."
She said the dedication of local volunteers had been key in helping the snake.
Natalya Lawrence, programme co-ordinator with the Environmental Awareness Group, another organisation involved in the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project, said: "Although the population of the racer has grown by leaps, we cannot stop now.
"There is still a need for public awareness, continued monitoring and stronger laws to protect the snake and other endangered species on our islands."Reuse content