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Profile of the Antiguan racer
Antigua's endangered species

Hundreds of years ago, before Europeans arrived in Antigua, the island had plenty of Antiguan racers. The thick forest that covered Antigua was teeming with lizards, the snakes' favourite snack. Free from predators and human interference, they had very little to fear. The arrival of Christopher Columbus changed all that. For more on the history of Antigua & Barbuda, see Treasure Island.

In the late 15th century, European settlers began to colonise Antigua. Using slaves brought from Africa, they cut down the forests to make room for huge plantations of sugar cane. The slave ships also brought rats. Feasting on the sugar cane (and, among other things, the eggs of the Antiguan racer) the rat population rocketed. By the end of the 19th century, the rat plague was out of control.


Sugar cane plus rats equals bad news for the racer

Bringing the mongoose to
Antigua was a big mistake

The plantation owners had a cunning plan (or so they thought). They introduced Asian mongooses to kill the rats. There was just one problem. Black rats are mainly nocturnal, active at night. Mongooses prefer to hunt during the day. So the two animals hardly ever met. This was good news for the rats. It was disastrous news for the defenceless birds, frogs and, in particular, the Antiguan racer, which the mongooses killed and ate instead. Within sixty years, the snake had vanished completely from Antigua and most of its offshore islands, the victim of rats, mongooses and human ignorance.
For more on rats and mongooses, see Villains.

Luckily, a few Antiguan racers survived, pinned into a corner on a tiny mongoose-free island not much bigger than a superstore car park (See The Last Resort). Forgotten by the outside world, the last remaining population clung on, its future hanging by a single thread.

Most people thought that the snake was extinct, but a local naturalist from the Island Resources Foundation knew better. In the early 1990s, he met a zoologist from Fauna & Flora International (see Heroes). Together, they visited Great Bird Island and found the snake. By the time the Antiguan racer was rediscovered, it was on the brink of extinction.

Could anything save it from the same fate as the dodo and the dinosaurs? To find out, see Mission Impossible?
©Copyright 2001 The Wildscreen Trust, PO Box 366, Bristol, United Kingdom BS99 2HD
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