Endangered West Indian Boas

Bimini Boa
Photograph: Aaron Corbit

Twenty-two named forms of West Indian boas, genus Epicrates, occur on islands of the West Indies. Eight of these taxa occur in the Bahamas alone, where populations have declined markedly in recent decades. Although our research focuses primarily on the ecology and conservation of the Bimini Boa (Epicrates striatus fosteri), we seek to examine the taxonomy of the entire group in an effort to clarify species relationships and conservation priorities.

At present, we have little understanding of the Bimini Boa’s natural history, habitat requirements, and causes of decline. Intensified research is needed as development on the islands continues unabated and snake populations rapidly decline. To support the research, an independent facility is required to provide adequate laboratory space and captive-rearing amenities. “Headstarted” snakes, raised 1-2 years in captivity to a size less vulnerable to predators, will be released to supplement natural populations. The optimal conditions for rearing and release of snakes will be studied experimentally. Conservation programs of this nature represent an ideal collaboration between private herpetoculturists and academic researchers. The two primary projects include:

Ecology and Conservation of the Bimini Boa
Key components: population surveys; radiotelemetry studies of ecology; conservation education; construction of research and captive-breeding facility; captive breeding and “headstarting” programs
Project duration: 10 years
Estimated cost: $200,000 (excluding salaries)

Conservation Phylogeography of West Indian Boas, Genus Epicrates
Key components: DNA sample collection (partially completed); molecular phylogenetic analysis
Project duration: 2 years
Estimated cost: $5,000 (excluding salaries)