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Putting together a project
Scientific research
Rat eradication
Ecological restoration
Captive breeding
So far so good
The Government of Antigua & Barbuda agreed that a second population of Antiguan racers should be established in captivity, as a kind of insurance against the wild population becoming extinct.
In early 1996, five adult racers were taken from Great Bird Island and flown to Jersey Zoo in the UK Channel Islands. It was there that Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (see Heroes) made the first attempt to breed them in captivity.

Inside the reptile breeding
area at Jersey Zoo

Richard Gibson, an expert on reptiles and amphibians at Jersey Zoo, took charge of the racers. It was important to make the snakes feel comfortable. Using information provided by the project partners in Antigua, he made sure that the racers were kept in conditions exactly like those on Great Bird Island.

After settling in, the females laid 11 eggs, including five fertile ones. These were removed to a safe place and incubated carefully for three months. To everyone's delight, all five eggs hatched. This was a fantastic achievement, considering just how little was known about the Antiguan racer.

Then tragedy struck. The Antiguan racer turned out to be allergic to a tiny parasite called the common snake mite. Despite all the efforts of the zoo's staff, nine of the ten snakes died.  

Eggs laid by the captive racers

A recently hatched racer,
born at Jersey Zoo
The work of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has produced lots of valuable information about the snakes breeding habits and proved that Antiguan racers can be bred in captivity. Sadly, we now also know that they are very difficult to keep alive, because they are fussy eaters, will only eat live lizards and have poor resistance to common diseases.
It may still be possible to solve these problems by finding a way to protect captive racers from parasites. In the meantime, it is even more important to establish new wild populations on other islands (see Eggs In Other Baskets).
©Copyright 2001 The Wildscreen Trust, PO Box 366, Bristol, United Kingdom BS99 2HD
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