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An overview of snake conservation in the West Indies

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image of Applied Herpetology

No fewer than 120 snake species representing six families and 20 genera inhabit the West Indies; 115 (95.8%) are endemic to the region. Except for ± 30 taxa, we do not know the true conservation status of West Indian snakes; the herpetofauna is in a state of flux, as are the islands. Factors contributing to the decline of Antillean snake populations are complex, but nearly all are human-mediated and involve the introduction of exotic species, including predators (e.g., cats, black and Norway rats, mongooses) and ungulates (goats, pigs) that degrade habitats. Species that appear especially vulnerable to extirpations and extinctions are boids (Epicrates spp.) and diurnal, ground-dwelling colubrids (Alsophis spp. and Liophis spp.). Alterations in the prey base, commercial exploitation, and habitat destruction are likely responsible for declines in Epicrates populations, whereas predation by mongooses, cats, and rats have taken their toll on species of Alsophis and Liophis. Pesticides and herbicides may also have a deleterious impact on fossorial (e.g., Typhlops spp.) and anuran-eating species (Antillophis spp., Chironius vincenti, Darlingtonia haetiana). With greater environmental awareness and a minimum of tolerance, snakes and humans could co-exist.


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