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Invasive snakes on St. Croix  

 

Alana33
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January 30, 2019 9:24 am  

This article discusses the impact of exotic snake species on St. Croix, which has become over a period of years a source of fear for residents and could spread to all the Virgin Islands — British and U.S.

Believe me, it was only a matter of time before the number of non-native snakes exploded on St. Croix, and in what we call “America’s Paradise.” The theory is that for some time now, someone or multiple individuals who worked for the oil refinery brought in snakes as exotic pets.

Dr. William Coles, a friend and colleague and chief of wildlife for the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, has been catching imported snakes since 2004. Since then, the number has increased drastically.

 
 

This seems to coincide with the closing of the oil refinery in 2012. The size of the snakes that have been caught thus far range from a foot long to 13 feet and weighing in the neighborhood of 80 pounds. According to Title 12, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 2, Protection of Indigenous, Endangered and Threatened Fish, Wildlife and Plants, it is illegal to transport snakes into the territory without written permission from the commissioner of Agriculture.

That law fines violators $500 for entering with any species of plant or animal that does not occur naturally in the Virgin Islands.

The word on the streets is that juvenile boas were smuggled into St. Croix, and when the oil refinery closed, and the snakes’ owners relocated to the mainland, they did not take the snakes and instead released them into the wild.

The red tail boa constrictor is the main culprit found on St. Croix. However, in 2004 and 2006, two rat snakes were discovered in shipping containers.

The red tail boas are non-venomous snakes. Nonetheless, if a boa bites you, it can be nasty and can lead to an infection. These snakes climb trees, which is a threat to native birds. The boas’ source of food is rodents, rats, small dogs, cats, birds, chickens, and mongooses. In 1884, the mongoose was imported to control rats in the sugar cane fields on St. Croix, but today, mongooses are prey for the red tail boa.

The boa can swing off a tree and snatch the mongoose right off the ground. In the early 1900s, mongooses had become a major threat to wildlife and farm animals in the Virgin Islands. At that time, there were more mongooses than humans living in the Virgin Islands.

Things had gotten so bad with mongooses and the impact to wildlife habitats on the islands that in 1966, the Legislature of the Virgin Islands passed a bill authorizing the expenditure of $10,000 annually for mongoose and wild dog control. However, the late historian George A. Seaman noted, “We have been informed that this money is not yet available.”

According to Dr. Coles, boas are parthenogenic, which means females can reproduce without a male. This adds to the problem of how many snakes are out there in the wild. Furthermore, female boas can retain somewhere between six to 60 eggs in their bodies, and they can give birth to live young. Also, these reptiles can live up to 30 years.

As you can see, we have a serious problem of snake invasion here.

Thus far, snakes have been caught in Estate Upper Love, the “rain forest,” west, northwest, northeast and the Concordia housing community, Salt River Bay, Kingshill, Estate Slob, Mars Hill, and the Carlton condominiums.

One reason Virgin Islanders fear snakes is that we have not grown up in an environment with snakes. In other words, we don’t think of snakes as part of our natural ecosystem, even though we do have native non-8venomous snakes. Those, however, are rare on the islands.

 
 

In places like St. Lucia, Dominica, and Trinidad, snakes are known because they are native to those islands and people there might be aware of them.

However, encounters with snakes in those islands are rare because of the prevalence of their natural predators, which keep the environment in balance with the ecosystem and because in their natural environment, snakes tend to stay out of humans’ way.

In the Virgin Islands, humans are the only natural predators for boas or any other exotic snakes.

How can we eradicate exotic snakes on St. Croix?

Since we all are impacted by exotic snakes, the community needs to come together. Town hall meetings, for example, can be established whereby DPNR officials, U.S. Customs, police, senators, USDA, etc., are invited to be educated and to educate and to discuss some means of eradicating exotic snakes in the wild.

There are things that residents can do now to protect themselves or reduce the threat of snakes around their property. That includes sealing holes in your screens or doors, keeping your grass cut, removing water, food, rock piles, junk, tires and garbage in your yard. Fill gaps under your house, fill crevasses in walls, etc.

Call 911 if you see a snake. Do not delay. Stay away from a boa. They move slowly and can’t outrun you. And they can strike quickly.

— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands’ historical, cultural and environmental preservation.


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Gator's Mom
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January 30, 2019 10:12 am  

Call 911? LMAO

Keep a sharpened hoe or shovel outside to chop off the snake's head. 

Here's an example of the broom and trash bag method of capture (then chop off the snake's head).

 


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vicanuck
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January 31, 2019 8:19 am  

The boas are an excellent way to control the feral cats, wild dogs and over abundance of chickens and mongoose on the island. Rather than just killing them as is done now, they should be trapped and sold to local restaurants for their meat. Having had a lot of experience handling them in the past, I found them to be quite docile.


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Fishbait
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January 31, 2019 10:15 am  
Posted by: vicanuck

The boas are an excellent way to control the feral cats, wild dogs and over abundance of chickens and mongoose on the island. Rather than just killing them as is done now, they should be trapped and sold to local restaurants for their meat. Having had a lot of experience handling them in the past, I found them to be quite docile.

I think the problem with eating anything that was eating rodents in a wild environment is the chance that it could have consumed a rodent that just consumed poison bait. They do tend to be the slower ones.... 


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stxsailor
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January 31, 2019 3:49 pm  

Snakes are not the vicious animal everyone makes them out to be they won't stalk your child. They would rather hide that attack. i don't think they should be indiscriminately killed either. i also don't but the "hovensa worked let them go"BS Most snake owners love their snakes like any other pet. Just easier to blame someone from the mainland. Many come in shipping containers. hiding in boxes of fruit.


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Gator's Mom
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January 31, 2019 5:00 pm  
Posted by: stxsailor

Snakes are not the vicious animal everyone makes them out to be they won't stalk your child. They would rather hide that attack. i don't think they should be indiscriminately killed either. i also don't but the "hovensa worked let them go"BS Most snake owners love their snakes like any other pet. Just easier to blame someone from the mainland. Many come in shipping containers. hiding in boxes of fruit.

Unfortunately, snakes are an invasive species in the VI. Need to be whacked in the VI just like in Florida. Indigenous species have a hard enough time without snakes. 

BTW I read somewhere the VI government will pay 25 cents per dead mongoose (another invasive species).  


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Kokonut
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February 1, 2019 8:49 am  

Most people have an irrational fear of big snakes. Our local pythons are an asset to the ecosystem by feeding on the over abundance of wild cats, dogs, rats and mongoose as was suggested in another post. We should celebrate our snakes.


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Gator's Mom
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February 1, 2019 9:10 am  
Posted by: Kokonut

Most people have an irrational fear of big snakes. Our local pythons are an asset to the ecosystem by feeding on the over abundance of wild cats, dogs, rats and mongoose as was suggested in another post. We should celebrate our snakes.

Let's celebrate the indigenous local brown python that is native to the VI.  The rest need to be removed from the ecosystem in the VI.  


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stxsailor
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February 1, 2019 3:10 pm  

Humans are an invasive species to the VI as well. 🙂


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