Location: As this snake’s name indicates, it was native to the West Indian island of Antigua, where it is now extinct. The Antiguan racer is now found on Bird Island and several other very small islands off the coast of Antigua.
European colonization of Antigua is what caused the near extinction of the Antiguan racer. It wasn’t direct human predation that was the problem, but rather the animals introduced to the island.
Slave and cargo ships inadvertently brought black rats to the island, feasting on the sugar cane being grown. To stop the devastation the rats were causing to the cane fields, and mongooses were imported to kill and eat the rats.
As it turned out, this was a far from ideal solution; the rats were nocturnal, whereas the mongooses were diurnal and found the Antiguan racers to be delicious. In a short period of time, the racers were extinct in Antigua.
Fortunately, there was a small colony of snakes on Bird Island, where there were no mongooses, and it was this remnant population that was able to survive.
Since that time, several other small islands in the region have been cleared of predators. They have been populated with snakes, helping the number of Antiguan racers to rise to approximately 500.
See Related: Loggerhead Sea Turtle
While rats and mongooses have been eliminated on target islands, the snakes are still in danger from human predation (some people consider them dangerous and will kill them) or people who want to keep them as pets.
These snakes have a very limited genetic blueprint and are susceptible to disease and snake mites. Another problem is the lack of suitable lizard prey for the snakes, many of which are underweight. Rising sea levels and hurricanes also harm the snakes.
Aggressive conservation efforts have helped the Antiguan racer return from the brink of extinction. The poisoning of rats and mongooses on neighboring islands has allowed the introduction of snakes. This will not only help with increasing the overall population but also help with genetic diversity.
Although captive breeding has been attempted, the Antiguan racer is so fragile genetically that it succumbs to disease too easily under these conditions. Feeding the snakes in captivity is also very difficult.
See Related: Endangered vs. Threatened vs. Extinct Species
Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Antiguan Racer? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.