In mid March, I spent nine days on Big Ambergris Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands conducting research on the Turks and Caicos rainbow boa Epicrates chrysogaster. Of course, I wasn’t alone! I was with a team of three volunteer assistants and Graham Reynolds, a collaborator and population geneticist from the University of Tennessee. Our project, now in its second year, is focused on understanding the natural history, genetics, and population density of boas in order to formulate a comprehensive plan for their conservation and management.
Big Ambergris, a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) private island, is undergoing extensive development and is believed to support the most abundant population of this species remaining. Fifty-nine boas were tagged in 2008, and so far 103 new boas have been tagged in 2009. Out of 165 total captures to date, only 3 have been recaptures of previously tagged individuals, suggesting the population is indeed very large and dense.
My research on boas received considerable media attention during my recent research trip as well! A film crew from the TV show Timbuktu, a popular animal documentary series in Italy, filmed the team in the field; Graham and I were interviewed about our research with boas (and iguanas) by two local TV channels in the Turks and Caicos Islands; and the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club, which manages Big Ambergris Cay, highlighted my research in a press release.
While working on Big Ambergris Cay in March, we also found the first specimen of the endemic Turks and Caicos dwarf boa Tropidophis greenwayi greenwayi recorded from the cay since it was described in the 1930s. Several herpetological surveys conducted in past decades failed to record the species on the cay and concluded, in error, that the species had been extirpated from the island. The snake was photographed, measured, tagged, sampled for genetics, and released. If other specimens are found, they will also be tagged so that information can be compiled on this rare and endemic species.
Glenn Gerber is head of the San Diego Zoo’s Caribbean Regional Program.