It’s difficult to believe that in an environment dominated by ocean and large sharks, the apex land predator in the Turks and Caicos Islands is a small, nonvenomous snake. A really, really big Turks Island boa is 5 feet long (1.5 meters) and weighs a whopping 1 pound or so (0.4 kilograms). Most are much, much smaller, less than three feet long in fact, and weigh only a few ounces. Nonetheless, like most snakes, humans often fear these animals, and malicious killings are part of the reason they are now rare on most islands in the Caribbean Sea. Another reason is predation by introduced cats and dogs, which the boas have no fear of or natural defenses from. Human development and the habitat loss and vehicular traffic that come with it are other reasons.
The boa pictured here is a large female from Big Ambergris Cay, a small island located on the eastern edge of the Caicos Islands. Big Ambergris has the largest remaining population of this species and one of the densest-known boa populations in the world. The island is only about 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) in area, but population estimates suggest there are over 2,000 snakes there!
Unfortunately, Big Ambergris Cay is now in the process of being developed as an exclusive private resort community. The challenge ahead will be to find a balance between the needs of humans and native wildlife, like the boas. Fortunately, both the government and the developers recognize this challenge and are working with conservationist to ensure such a balance is achieved.
Glenn Gerber is head of the San Diego Zoo’s Caribbean Regional Program. Read his previous post, Boas in the Caribbean.