Despite being a modest chain of islands, the Grenadines boast a vast array of wildlife; from parrots to pufferfish, and tuna to turtles. However, as with many remote islands, the wildlife in the Grenadines has taken its fair share of persecution over the years. This is due to a host of reasons, ranging from habitat loss for building and agriculture (albeit modest on the rocky slopes), as well as superstition and fear. The snakes are a good example of this, where all three species (Barbour’s Tropical Racer [Mastigodryas bruesi], Saint Vincent Blacksnake [Chironius vincenti] and Cook’s Tree Boa [Corallus cookii]) are not venomous, but feared by many not aware of their innocence. Of course, being small islands, it has to be remembered that above all other risks – everything is on the menu as far as meat is concerned.
However, as times change, shifts in opinion slowly try to knock on the door of materialising the recognition for the need to protect these species.
The Union Island Gecko (Gonatodes daudini), as an example, only came on to the scientific radar as a species in 2005. Very sadly, some of the initial published data on this incredibly unique and rare lizard (classed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List) was utilised by poachers to facilitate successful capture of many individuals for the illegal pet trade. As the entire habitat of this species spans only 0.5 square kilometres,
As of March this year, the government of Saint Vincent has applied to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to formally list the Union Island Gecko as a protected species, and banning international trade.
So, slowly, things are changing. But with recognition of the Union Island Gecko in 2005, how has it taken 14 years to get this far? And will it be too late? Time is running out for this species, as well as those such as the Blacksnake, who is also considered ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.
The islands boast some incredible species, including this lovely Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius) that we have observed in the wild here in Mayreau. But even this species is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List; meaning they too fall into the endangered umbrella category.
So where does this leave us? As vets, we undoubtably have the privilege of being well educated in the appreciation of our natural world, and it’s finite toleration to our abuse of it. For those of us that have worked/work in zoo and conservation medicine there are daily reminders of the urgent need to safe-guard our planet, and the all species; especially those most imminently at risk of extinction.
Interestingly, here, as with the case around the world, it isn’t us big-headed vets saving species… it’s tourism. And money talks. It is the only way to accelerate protection of natural habitat and those animals that reside in it. To educate and promote care for the environment having a positive effect on tourism. Where people see there is the opportunity to make more money from living examples rather than persecuting them to extinction, it has the potential to be win-win.
And for this part we can all do our bit – visiting areas that are conservation-conscious, and ensuring that travelling spends are spent on projects with a positive impact as opposed to those just out to make money (as sadly some of them are), are all ways that we can help.
The Gretas of the world are speaking out with a loud, commanding voice for our planet. But we can all vote without saying a word; with how we choose to spend our money, especially when travelling.