The Government of Antigua joins forces with Dr Jenny Daltry (Fauna & Flora International) to conduct a survey of the only remaining population of Antiguan racers on Great Bird Island. This tiny population is threatened by invasive black rats. The mainland population was wiped out by the invasive mongoose. Before the racer was rediscovered in the 1960s it was thought to be extinct.
A partnership is formed between Durrell, FFI, Government of Antigua, Environmental Awareness Group and Island Resources Foundation which successfully work together over the next 20 years. The purpose of the project is to conserve the Critically Endangered Antiguan racer snake and other indigenous fauna and flora of the offshore islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
During previous studies, black rats were identified as the primary threat to the surviving Antiguan racer population and so the ARCP immediately starts work on an eradication programme. Great Bird Island is successfully cleared of invasive rats and strict biosecurity protocols are implemented to protect the island from future invasion.
With an estimated population of just 50 individuals existing in less than 0.1% of its original natural range, the Antiguan racer is one of the rarest snakes in the world. Continuously threatened by invasive predators, this species is at very high risk of extinction without conservation efforts and qualifies under the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.
EAG and IRF staff help Durrell collect five adult racers from Great Bird Island which are flown to Jersey. Females quickly produce fertile eggs which successfully hatch providing valuable data on the species breeding strategy. Unfortunately the captive snakes deteriorate following the invasion of a common snake mite highlighting their poor resistance to diseases.
Following the eradication of black rats on Great Bird Island, surveys led by FFI's Dr Jenny Daltry show that the resident population of Antiguan racers have more than doubled in two years. This is considered a major milestone in the species' recovery and plans are made to establish further sub-populations by restoring other offshore islands.
Invasive rats are removed from Rabbit Island and the ARCP move ten Antiguan racers onto the newly restored site in an attempt to establish a new sub-population. Five snakes are fitted with radio-transmitters which are used to monitor the survival rate of the individuals post-release. As initial results are promising, further translocations are planned.
The aim of the Species Action Plan, developed during a participatory workshop, is to support the conservation of the threatened Antiguan racer by guiding activity and reinforcing commitment from project partners. Objectives focus on further translocations to restored islands and maintaining high levels of biosecurity to protect established populations.
Guided by ARCP's Antiguan Racer Reintroduction Plan to establish a global population of 500 snakes on at least four islands, ten racers are introduced to Green Island following the removal of rats. Further translocations of individuals to both Green Island and Rabbit Island are planned to secure establishment of healthy populations on both islands.
Juvenile Antiguan racers are sighted on Green Island, proving the population is successfully breeding just three years after the first snakes were released. Due to its large size, Green Island has the potential to support over 700 individual racers; the successful establishment of this third sub-population has significantly reduced the species' risk of extinction.
Rats were detected during biosecurity checks conducted by Antigua's Environmental Awareness Group and a repeat of an island-wide eradication programme was necessary to protect the newly established population of racers. The impact of the rats on the racer population is thought to be minimal thanks to early detection and swift action from the ARCP.
Two years after a fourth sub-population of Antiguan racers is established on York Island, a full census of the global population is conducted. Data shows that 15 years after conservation intervention began, the global population has increased from 50 to 500 and the range of the species has increased by over 500%, significantly reducing the risk of extinction.
Two Saint Lucian staff and a Durrell volunteer travel to Antigua and spend four days with partners conducting fieldwork on the Antiguan racer. Antiguan staff use the surviving populations of Antiguan racers to train the visitors in survey, capture and monitoring techniques to prepare them for a major effort to survey surviving Saint Lucia racers on Maria Major.