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Red Tailed Boa Invaders Slither Across St. Croix’s West End  

 

Alana33
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April 21, 2015 9:12 am  

Invaders Slither Across St. Croix’s West End

BY BERNETIA AKIN — APRIL 20, 2015
A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

There’s a new resident in the Crucian countryside and a local wildlife authority is not happy about it.

The red tail boa, a subspecies of boa constrictor usually found in Central and South America, seems to be making itself very comfortable on the western end of St. Croix.

“I’m catching all these snakes,” said Dr. William Coles, chief of wildlife for the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on St. Croix. “And that’s a little bit disconcerting.”

Coles said he’s been with the division for 15 years and that, up until recently, he had caught just one red tail boa. According to a news story, that took place in 2008. But in the last two to three years, he said, he has caught 12 more.

Coles said that early this month, he caught two snakes in one week. All of them were sighted west of the Carlton area.

It’s not clear how the reptiles got to St. Croix, but Coles has a theory. He believes they or their immediate ancestors were brought in as exotic pets by someone who worked for HOVENSA and that when the refinery closed in 2012, sending many workers back to the mainland, the snakes’ owner or owners left them behind.

As a pet, the red tail boa is especially popular with reptilian fans because of its pretty coloration and its relatively docile nature. Its skin is decorated with a pattern of geometric shapes that tend to be brownish black for much of the body but turn to a red hue near the tail.

An adult typically grows to 10 feet long and weighs up to 50 pounds, according to various Internet sites. Coles said the snake can grow to as long as 16 feet, though the largest he has caught so far was about six and a half feet long.

Despite its size, the red tail boa is generally not harmful to humans. It can bite but it is not venomous. It is nocturnal, hunting at night and hiding out during the day. It feeds on small mammals such as rats or mongoose as well as on birds. Like other constrictors, it kills its prey by wrapping itself around the unlucky animal and squeezing it to death. But it isn’t greedy. It may go as long as a month between meals.

The problem is that the red tail boa is not native to the Virgin Islands. It has no predator here to keep it in check. A female can lay 62 eggs at a time. If they all survive, that’s a lot of snakes. And they have a life span that tops out at about 30 years.

The red tail boa climbs trees, making it safe from predators who can’t climb trees and particularly dangerous to native tropical birds. In the fragile, closed environment of an island, there’s the potential for a major disruption in the ecological balance.

Many of the snakes Coles has caught had issues such as disease or injury, and the territorial veterinarian euthanized them. But currently, he has four red tail boas in cages.

“The problem is that nobody wants them,” he said. “We can’t give them away … We’ve talked to zoos in the States” but they already have plenty of them.

Local authorities don’t even know where the snakes originated, so they can’t just send them “home.” Coles said all four surviving boas have slightly different coloration, indicating they come from different regions. One may be from Brazil, another from Columbia. Without genetic analysis, there’s no way to discern origin with any accuracy.

And even if their origins could be determined, officials would be reluctant to release them for fear that the animals could be infected and would introduce a new disease to their old habitat.

“Our hands are tied,” Coles said.


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CruzanIron
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April 21, 2015 11:08 am  

What an ass! Blaming Hovensa employees? Really?


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vicanuck
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April 21, 2015 11:44 am  

Many years ago when I was younger and lived in downtown Toronto, we kept several boas and pythons as pets among other exotic animals. The biggest boa was 18 feet long and very docile. We used to take it up the street to the park where they had a big water fountain and reflecting pond. The snake loved swimming in the pond and we always gathered a big crowd. These types of snakes are very easy to handle as pets. We used to feed the big one rabbits and the smaller ones rats. Dr. Coles should consider letting them free so they can control not only the rat and mongoose population but the feral cat/dog population as well. Snakes are much more cost effective than our under-funded animal control organizations.


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ms411
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April 21, 2015 12:21 pm  

Most people fear snakes, and the purported lack of snakes makes the VI an appealing destination.


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soccerrprp
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April 21, 2015 12:42 pm  

Most people fear snakes, and the purported lack of snakes makes the VI an appealing destination.

I agree. Mongoose are known to be adept snake killers. I wonder which animal is control whom? (grammar??? :-))

How often do residents of the island discover the snakes, I wonder.


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OldTart
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April 21, 2015 1:15 pm  

Mongooses were introduced into the Virgin Islands in the early 19th century to protect the sugar cane plantations from rats. Unfortunately the brilliant soul who brought them in failed to take into consideration that rats are nocturnal and mongooses are diurnal so the rats continued to proliferate and the mongoose population went after the harmless local snakes and the ground doves. The ground doves fly only a short distance off the ground and their eggs which they laid in nests built on the ground were easy pickings.

The ground doves soon learned to build their nests a little higher off the ground and the snakes, although their numbers were severely decimated, managed to survive through more evasive tactics. Many people have lived here for decades and never seen a snake.

Around 15-20 years ago a virus spread through the local mongoose community and severely decimated their numbers. Concomitantly the population of both ground doves and snakes rose. As the mongoose population rises the inevitable cycle starts all over again and the animals adapt accordingly.


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Alana33
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April 21, 2015 1:27 pm  

The problem is that is they are a non native species.
They have NO local predators.

Mongoose may be formidable to certain types of snakes but I seriously doubt that they can hold their own with a large 4-12 ft. Boa Constrictor.

"A female can lay 62 eggs at a time. If they all survive, that’s a lot of snakes. And they have a life span that tops out at about 30 years."

They climb. They also eat birds and their eggs. Many of which are already endangered. (If they just stuck to feral chickens and roosters, I might be okay with that but they don't.)

They are opportunistic feeders.
Your small pet, cat, dog, baby goats, sheep, etc., could very well become their snack. That is the problem with people owning exotic species that don't belong in our environments but in their native environments.

That's the reason Florida is overrun with all types of critters that don't belong and have become major problems including cat-eating Monitor Lizards which are Florida's latest invasive species.

That's why we have the invasive Lion Fish.

The only way to stop the problems is for our government, territorial and U.S., both, to stop allowing wild and exotic animal importation. Period.

Humans caused this problem but unfortunately the animals, whether the invasive species or their prey, will pay the price with their lives.


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Alana33
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April 21, 2015 3:54 pm  

Mongoose are also a non native species and decimate various bird and reptilian populations.


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OldTart
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April 21, 2015 3:57 pm  

Mongoose are also a non native species and decimate various bird and reptilian populations.

To which I already devoted a long post.


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Alana33
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April 21, 2015 3:58 pm  

SO?


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OldTart
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April 21, 2015 4:00 pm  

SO?

My bad, I didn't realize you just wanted to do a repeat. I do apologize.


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Alana33
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April 21, 2015 4:02 pm  

Thank you!


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Scubadoo
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April 22, 2015 12:12 am  

Neuter the snakes and let them go in the rain forest.


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Pdmargie
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April 22, 2015 2:12 am  

Once established and breeding, the snakes will be impossible to eradicate. The endangered, indigenous species will be decimated. Not only will small animals be at risk, small children will as well. Unfortunately, the genie is already out of the bottle. If you find and capture one, assuming it's not against the law, the most humane way of disposing of a snake is to put it in a plastic bag in the freezer. That's what they do in Florida to the problem, non native pythons that are overrunning the Everglades.


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speee1dy
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April 22, 2015 1:43 pm  

cruzaniron, it has been said that when they ( hovensa workers) left island to go back to the states, they left a lot of pets behind. people say there was an increase in stray animals. i can see someone not wanting to try to explain trying to get a snake stateside.

regardless, someone once had these as pets and now they dont


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CruzanIron
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April 22, 2015 2:43 pm  

cruzaniron, it has been said that when they ( hovensa workers) left island to go back to the states, they left a lot of pets behind. people say there was an increase in stray animals. i can see someone not wanting to try to explain trying to get a snake stateside.

regardless, someone once had these as pets and now they dont

Except that I know it is BS. Absolutely not true of those that lived in company housing, who mostly all left.


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TommySTX
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April 22, 2015 4:23 pm  

Does it really matter where they came from? They are apparently here now and need to be dealt with in some way. Not sure why CruzanIron takes such offense about a theory that may or may not be true. Who cares.


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speee1dy
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April 22, 2015 4:40 pm  

okay, thats just what i heard. never know if what was told to a person is the truth or not?


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CruzanIron
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April 22, 2015 5:28 pm  

I used to (legally) have snakes many years ago.

I heard there were some travelling nurses that had 3 of them about 4 years ago. They lived in Peppertree when they got here and then moved to LaGrange. They were here on a 2 year contract.


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speee1dy
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April 22, 2015 8:21 pm  

whoever did this, it is a shame not just to the snakes but to any animal that is left. my husband years ago had a girlfriend that had a snake. i just can not imagine .


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Alana33
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April 22, 2015 8:44 pm  

Hope he wasn't your husband at the time!:D


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speee1dy
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April 23, 2015 10:39 am  

lol alana. no-long before i knew him


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