Wiped out from mainland Saint Lucia by the introduction of the invasive Indian mongoose, the species was thought to be extinct. In 1973, a single racer was discovered surviving on Maria Major island, only 1km offshore from mainland Saint Lucia. The absence of invasive predators on this offshore island is thought to be the reason this snake has managed to persist.
Many endemic species occurring on these offshore islands are threatened and are protected under the act, including the Saint Lucia racer. Anyone who contravenes this act faces up to 12 months imprisonment or a fine of $5000 Eastern Caribbean dollars. These penalties are enforced by all customs officials, who are provided with species photographs for correct identification.
Despite their close proximity to mainland Saint Lucia, the two offshore islands which cover an area less than 17 football pitches, have avoided invasion of alien predators thereby providing a refuge for the four endemic reptiles present, including the Saint Lucia racer. The Government of Saint Lucia declares the Maria Islands a nature reserve and they are managed by the Saint Lucia National Trust.
During the visit to Maria Major by Quentin Bloxam from Durrell's Herpetology Department, two snakes are found and captured. Evidence of the presence of juvenile racers on the island is also recorded. Published by the Guinness book of records as the world's rarest snake, the species has only been sighted a handful of times since it was rediscovered.
Preliminary ecological field studies are conducted by Durrell staff in an attempt to estimate the abundance and status of the racer. After 26 days and over 230 man hours, only one snake is found and it is suggested that an ecosystem based monitoring programme to infer status of the species would be more cost-effective.
Two Saint Lucian staff and a Durrell volunteer travel to Antigua and spend four days with partners conducting fieldwork on the Antiguan racer. Antigua 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.
Following years of the odd sighting, intensive searches in 2011 found 11 racers on the island of Maria Major. The snakes were caught and tagged for monitoring. Analysis suggests the global population could be as low as 18 individuals. The number of snakes encountered and the amount of data collected during this survey has far eclipsed previous attempts to find and study the racer.
Dennery Island off Saint Lucia's east coast is identified as a potential site to translocate small numbers of Saint Lucia racers to establish additional sub-populations and reduce the risk of extinction. Working with the National Trust, the removal of goats from Dennery Island is negotiated and translocations of Saint Lucia whiptails as prey items can be conducted as vegetation recovers.
Effective biosecurity protocols are essential to prevent the invasion of alien predators to Maria Major and increase protection of the highly threatened surviving population of racers. Durrell's reptile expert, Dr Nik Cole, visits from Mauritius to advise and train staff in biosecurity techniques thereby strengthening the skills of National Trust and Government staff.
Anguilla National Trust staff member Tashim Fleming works alongside Durrell's reptile keeper, Dan Lay, and Government staff to collect nine Anguillan racers to establish a captive population at Durrell's Wildlife Park in Jersey. These snakes will enable Durrell to develop husbandry techniques which may be used to establish a captive population of Saint Lucia racers in the future.