Saving the Antiguan racer snake – 25 years on

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By Orville Williams

Quarter of a century after its launch, the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme (OICP) – formerly known as the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project – has helped to completely transform the ecosystem of Antigua’s offshore islands.

The OICP is a partnership between the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the government, among others. 

Its initial focus was saving the Antiguan racer snake – once dubbed the rarest snake in the world. Speaking on World Wildlife Day yesterday, the EAG’s executive director Arica Hill explained just how the project has impacted the entire surrounding ecosystem.

She told Observer that efforts to protect the snake had triggered a host of additional benefits throughout the islands.

“We’re seeing the bird population has resurged, our plant populations have resurged [and] the coral reefs – to some extent – have improved as well. Because of just removing the rats and mongooses, we have seen the islands literally bounce back and become this beautiful area for wildlife and wildlife enjoyment,” she explained. 

The racer snake is a success story all of its own.

“We’re very excited this year, because this year marks 25 years since we have had that project and 25 years of work with the Antiguan racer snake,” Hill continued.

“As many Antiguans know, the work that has been done has moved that species from the brink of extinction. When we first discovered the snake on Great Bird Island, there were 50 individuals; now there are well over 1,000. 

“It has moved from being the rarest snake in the world to the fourth rarest; that is a significant accomplishment and so we’re really very proud of that,” she said. 

Hill also shared that the EAG are embarking on a sensitisation campaign, geared towards increasing knowledge of the importance of wildlife to the sustenance of islands. 

“We are doing an exhibition – a roaming exhibition – called the My Offshore Islands exhibition, and what we want to do is encourage people to see how those aspects of our environment are a huge part of who we are as people. 

“Having wildlife and having different types of wildlife influences how we interact with the environment, how we’re able to go to offshore islands and experience [them] on a weekend.”

Hill added, “We fish there, we swim there, we enjoy life there and it’s because of the wildlife that exists there. So we want people to be proud of it and to appreciate it.”

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