Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

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Jamaican Boa Conservation

Jamaican Boa
Photo by Paul Hime, St. Louis Zoo

The Jamaican boa (Epicrates subflavus) is the largest snake found on the island of Jamaica and is only found there.  This boa can attain lengths of 8 feet.  In the wild, they are found in limestone forest, rock crevices, caves, and trees.  Their natural prey includes introduced rodents and native bats and birds. 

Jamaican Boa Grabbing Bat
Photo by Susan Koenig, Windsor Research Center, Jamaica

They have a unique behavior.  This boa is known to hang by their tail from the roofs of caves waiting for bats to fly by, at which point they grab a bat from the air to eat. Stresses on the Jamaican “Yellow snake” include clearing of land, predation from introduced mammals (pig, domestic cats, mongoose, etc.), collection for the pet trade, and most recently mining for bauxite, which is the main source of aluminum.

Lone Jamaican Boa Found During Week
A newly released Jamaican Boa Photo by Wendy Lee, Northern Jamaica Conservation Association

Dino Ferri, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ current Curator of Herpetology, traveled to Jamaica in 2000 with the hopes of working with local agencies on Jamaican wildlife, particularly Jamaican boas and iguanas.  Then, in 2003, he returned to initiate a Jamaican boa project with local researchers at the Windsor Research Center in Trelawny Parish, located in the northwest section of Jamaica.  During that week only one boa was found.

During 2007 and 2008, local wildlife agencies in Jamaica, European zoos, and Dino created a Jamaican Boa Educational Poster to be given to local schools, nature centers, and construction sites throughout Northern Jamaica.  The next step is to apply for funding for a radio telemetry project with Jamaican boas in the Cockpit area of Trelawny parish.  With assistance from local researchers and college students, the telemetry project should help identify the movement of boas, and what happens to boas that are captured and released.

Researchers in Jamaica
Researchers in Jamaica Photo by Paul Hime, St. Louis Zoo

In November 2008, Dino once again flew to Jamaica to start researching the start of another field project.  Two common goals with Jamaica’s NEPA (National Environmental Protection Agency) were identified.  First, what are the movements of these boas during the dry and wet seasons?  Second, what prey are these snakes eating and in what quantities?

Jamaican Boa
Photo by Paul Hime, St. Louis Zoo

These projects will aid in establishing a viable in situ (in country) conservation program for the Jamaican Boa.  Home ranges and foraging/prey requirements need to be understood, especially in the dry coastal areas that are being developed.  Many of the boas are collected from these coastal construction sites, to be released in other areas on Jamaica that may or may not be appropriate.  For long-term success, education is important, especially for immigrants who break the “yellow snake” protection laws by eating them. Also, front line workers such as banana and coffee field workers need to learn why it is beneficial to protect rather than kill these snakes.

Dino Ferri is the North American Regional Studbook Keeper and Population Manager for the Jamaican Boa. 

Dino Ferri
Dino Ferri Photo by Paul Hime, St. Louis Zoo

For more information on the Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus) see the following resources:
PDF about Jamaican Boas
AZA Snake Taxon Advisory Group
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust