We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Just like all snake species that live in the territory, the Virgin Islands tree boa is completely harmless.
In fact, it is a crucial part of the terrestrial ecosystem, and it directly benefits humans because it eats rats and other pests.
Unfortunately, it is also under threat. The boa was first added to the United States’ federal endangered species list in 1979, and the US-based Center for Biological Diversity states that it is “highly imperilled” because of severe habitat destruction and fragmentation in the sub-tropical dry forests of this territory, Puerto Rico, and the USVI.
This is why we are so happy that scientists visited recently to study the species as part of a five-year-old regional programme dedicated to researching and protecting the snakes in the few islands where they live.
Such work is badly needed here. In the VI, the harmless boa has long gotten a bad rap, and too many people have been quick to kill it and other snakes on sight.
Instead, the community should be using the snakes as an example to educate residents and visitors about the territory’s incredible wildlife. After all, the VI and other United Kingdom overseas territories are home to 94 percent of British endemic species and 90 percent of the biodiversity for which the UK government has responsibility, according to recent research.
The VI boa is an extraordinary example of that biodiversity. To protect it, the government should strengthen legal protections for endangered species and amp up education efforts.
Going forward, officials might consider the success of the Anegada Iguana Species Restoration Programme. Thanks to partnerships between the National Parks Trust and scientists from abroad, this programme has helped repopulate the highly endangered iguana species by raising juveniles in cages until they are big enough to fend for themselves among non-native species like domestic cats.
The programme has also contributed valuable research in recent decades, and the related Iguana Head Start Facility on Anegada is a wonderful educational tool where the species can be viewed by children and others.
The VI tree boa deserves similar treatment. The recent research is an important step in the right direction, but the species won’t be safe until there is a fundamental change in thinking about the snake and other threatened species in this territory.