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The Rarest Snake in the World

Jennifer Gallichan, 30 July 2019

Our summer exhibition, Snakes! gives us a sneak peek into the secretive and captivating life of the snakes of the world. We are posting a series of snake blogs over the summer to share some of our snake related stories.

At the back of our Snakes gallery we have made a map of the snakes of the world. Here you can find out which are the longest, the fastest, even the one that has the longest fangs! And this is where you'll find a picture of rarest snake in the world – the Saint Lucia racer.

Unbelievably, there are fewer than 20 individuals of this relatively small, non-venomous snake left in the world. And they are all confined to a tiny, nine-hectare islet off the mainland of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI), is an international conservation charity dedicated to protecting our planet’s threatened wildlife and habitats. In partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and national agencies, FFI is working to bring back these snakes from the brink of extinction.

This species was once the second most common snake on Saint Lucia. So what happened?

In the 19th century small Asian mongooses were introduced to the island. They found the ground dwelling racers easy prey, and their population plummeted to the point that they were thought to be extinct. So now an emergency project has been set up to protect the remaining racers and spread the word about their importance.

But with such low numbers, can they really be brought back?

The answer is a resounding yes! Until fairly recently, the world’s rarest snake was considered to be the Antiguan racer, another Caribbean snake species found only on a handful of offshore islands in Antigua and Barbuda. In 1995, only 50 individuals remained, but thanks to the help of FFI and other national and international organisations, they are making a comeback. Their numbers have increased 22 fold in that time, with numbers now exceeding 1,100 individuals. So there is still hope.

How did they do it? They have focused a lot of work on eradicating the harmful invasive species – particularly ship rats – that have been introduced to the islands and introduced strict controls to help protect these sensitive ecosystems.

Snakes are often maligned and misunderstood, so they have also focused on changing attitudes and raising awareness. This has been so successful that many Antiguans and Barbudans have become enthusiastic advocates of their unique snake and its unique island ecosystem.

So, the hope is that by protecting the remaining Saint Lucia racers, and the tiny islet they live on, their populations will begin to stabilise and grow. It is so inspiring to hear a positive conservation story. I wish them all the luck in the world.

If you are interested in finding out more about snakes – come down to our exhibition! It is on until 15 September. For more details check out our What’s On page.

You can find out more about Saint Lucia racers and the work of FFI here, here and here.

You can find out more about Antiguan racers and the work of FFI here.

You can find out more about FFI here.

You can find out more about Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust here.

You can read our read our previous blogs here and here.

Jennifer Gallichan

Curator: Vertebrates
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