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Monday, June 27, 2011

St.Lucia Black Finch (Melanospiza richardsoni)

Jeannette Victor

Did you know that apart from being the only home for the St. Lucia Parrot and the St.Lucia Oriole, St.Lucia is also only home to the St. Lucia Black Finch, thus making it another endemic species to our beautiful island?  St. Lucia is home to at least five birds that are found nowhere else in the world and they all contribute to our rich biodiversity.

Melanospiza richardsoni locally known as the St.Lucia Black Finch or Moisson Pied-blanc is often mistaken for the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. Though it is small like the bullfinch if looked upon carefully the difference is quite visible.  The male Moisson Pied-blanc is all black with pale pink legs unlike the bullfinch which has a red patch to the throat area.  The head of the female Black Finch is grey; however the top of the bullfinch head is brown. When the Black Finch perches they bob their tails in a vertical motion, not twitching left to right.

This bird is seen in pairs and prefers thick understory where they feed on insects and a variety of fruits and berries.  They breed between November and June with the female usually laying two white eggs with evenly spaced brownish-red spots. Their nests are constructed loosely with twigs, ferns and leaves with an oval side entrance close to the ground.

The Black Finch faces many threats particularly as a result of loss of habitat which has occurred from the conversion of forested lands to agricultural land and touristic development. Another serious threat is from the alien invasive species, the Asian mongoose, Herpestes javanicus.  The Black Finch is also vulnerable to Mongoose predation because they nest close to the ground.

The Black Finch is critically endangered and its survival is dependent on securing the management and restoration of forested areas by the government of Saint Lucia, controlling the introduction and spread of the Asian mongoose, conducting research on habitat restoration and alien predator control and strengthening the local understanding and support for the conservation of the black finch and its habitat.

What part can you play as a St. Lucian to secure the survival of our critically endangered, St Lucia Black Finch?

Conversation between the St. Lucia Oriole and the St. Lucia Parrot

Jeannette Victor

Do you ever wonder what our animals talk about? Well wonder no more this weekend we listen in on a conversation between the St. Lucia Oriole and St. Lucia Parrot.

Carouge: Hey there Jacqout what’s happening?

Jacquot: Hello there Carouge.  I’m doing good. What about you; how are you feeling today?  

Carouge: Am blessed to be away from the noisy and hot areas like the urban areas. This
place is ideal; it is fresh and quiet.

Jacquot: I feel the same I just wish humans would share our opinion.

Carouge: You know I was just thinking to myself that we live in the forest and speak to each other everyday but I know nothing about you, not even your christian name! 

Jacquot:    Hmmmm. You know that is so true and I am now realizing that.  We know nothing about each other. Maybe we should spend the day today getting to know each other.

Carouge: That is a good idea instead of gossiping.

Jacquot: Okay but only for the morning, I have something to show you, later.

Carouge: Before my mother died she told me our name was Icterus laudabilis but we were called Carouge. When   I was younger I was a bit green with black around my neck. As I got older I got darker and I have those outstanding patches of orange on my wing, belly and under tail with jet black feathers. She also told me that my only home is this island and she made our home in a form of a basket hanging from a tree where she laid three spotted eggs.  My beak is quite strong so I can crack open fruits and seeds and make holes in the barks of trees.  As you know I make sounds like cacak- cacak and go hunting for food early in the morning and late in the evening.

Jacquot: Thanks for telling me a little more about yourself.  I got my name Amazona Versicolor because of the many colors that I have; the dark green wings, blue forehead and face, red breast and maroon belly, my dark blue undertail feathers and the yellow at my tail tip. Would you believe that I was born with no feathers? St. Lucia is my only home too and I am very noisy especially early morning when feeding.  I lay three eggs and see my young ones after 28 days of warming them up. I make my nest in a hole in a tree. My beak is as strong as yours so I enjoy a meal of fruits, seeds and nuts.

Carouge: Very well Jacquot.  It feels good to know my neighbour better.  It makes feel more at ease in my surroundings.

Jacquot: The feeling is mutual. Don’t you think we should be getting to know the other neighbors a regular routine?

Carouge: Yes, yes I do agree.  I would love getting to know them.

Jacquot: Next time around. Take care and enjoy the rest of your day!

Carouge: I will. Many thanks. Until next time.

For further information, please contact the Forestry Department at 468-5645/5648 or our blog at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

St Lucia Whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzoi)

Photo / Te-Hsin Tsai
Article / Nicole La Force

The St Lucia Whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzoi) affectionately called Zando is a species of lizard that is quite beautiful. It is endemic to Saint Lucia (found nowhere else) and is the only species of Cnemidophorus (whiptails) found in the eastern Caribbean.

The female is a lovely chocolate brown with white spots on the sides and coincidentally the male contains all the colors of the St. Lucia flag. Talk about a flagship specie!

This species of lizards came to the attention of scientist in the 1960’s and its population was estimated to be just about 1000 individuals distributed between Maria Major and Maria Minor, islets south of the island. This made the lizard quite vulnerable to extinction.

Because of this, the Forestry Department along with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been translocating small Zando populations to some of our offshore islets, Praslin and Rat Island for example.

These offshore islets first had to be cleared of all natural predators to Zando, these being rats, mongoose, manicou and cats. It has been found that the lizards are thriving on Praslin islet and though only 42 lizards were translocated there in 1995, the population is now estimated to be a little over 300.

This is great cause for celebration but we cannot let our guard down yet. Apart from the natural predators mentioned earlier, Zando is very vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, fires and especially the irresponsible actions of man.

Many persons go to these offshore islets and light fires, litter (things I have seen with my own eyes) and who knows, inadvertently transport rats to these locations. All of this undermines the work that is being done to preserve and protect these beautiful creatures.

For Zando not to be completely vulnerable to extinction populations of no less than 500 individuals need to exist on all our offshore islands and that’s a target that we have not met but are striving towards.

Your help is needed in getting the word out. In many countries, people fight to preserve and protect what is uniquely theirs. We need to learn from them and do the same. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful treasure as Zando, uniquely St. Lucian but so many of us are unaware or just don’t care one way or another.

Our thinking needs to change as a people. We need to appreciate and preserve our heritage, what is uniquely ours that improves our quality of life and that of the future generation.

The St. Lucia Viper or Sepan

Photo / Te-Hsin Tsai
Article / Nicole La  Force

Many people are not fond of snakes. In fact, a typical Lucian will tell you once they hear or see a sepan they think danger, kill it! But not all God’s creatures are cuddly and sweet, yet they all serve their purpose in maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem. The key is to arm ourselves with knowledge and learn to co-exist.
Saint Lucia can be proud of the fact that we are home to four (4) endemic snakes:  the st. Lucia Boa constrictor or tete chyenn, st. Lucia racer, St. Lucia thread snake and of course the St. Lucia Fer-de-Lance or viper. I must note however that the only natural predator of the St. Lucia viper another snake called the St. Lucia Cribo is now extinct. According to records, the last confirmed sighting was in the 19th century.

The Fer-de-Lance or viper (Bothrops caribbaeus) is a poisonous snake and can grow up to about 2.13 m or over 6ft.  It is a large snake and its colours are usually grey, with sandy yellow to reddish brown above and yellow or cream coloured on the underside. It is able to thrive in a wide range of habitats including our rainforest. It is usually found on the ground but occasionally in trees.

These snakes were more abundant in St. Lucia but not any more. Too many have been indiscriminately killed by humans. You could say their biggest threat is us. The population is at present vulnerable.

Fun facts about our St. Lucia viper
○They mate during the months of March and April.
○They give birth to 30 or 40 live young during August and September.
Adults eat rats, mice and sometimes birds, mongoose and manicou. Great biological pest control I’d say!!
Juveniles feed on large insects, frogs and lizards.

Our Sepan needs to be protected. We cannot allow it to become extinct like some of our other wildlife or else there won’t be anything for our children and grand children to see and enjoy or even the visitors to our shores.

For us to co-exist, the experts have given some great advice:

·        Educate our people on how to avoid being bitten and first aid measures.
·        Permit killing or relocation of snakes only where they present danger to humans like in villages.
·        Identify uninhabited and rarely used forested areas as safe havens for these snakes where killing of them would be prohibited.
Improve snakebite treatment in our hospitals and always have anti-venom on hand.

Hey, let’s hope we have all learnt something here and that together we will continue to preserve our biodiversity. As a colleague of mine once said, ““Remember, what is done to nature is done to us all.  The future generations will hold us accountable for any loss of biological diversity, including the Saint Lucia Viper”’. 

The St. Lucia Racer (Liophis ornatus)

Nicole La Force

The St. Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus) or kouwès in patois is one of the world’s rarest snakes and guess what? It’s endemic to St. Lucia. Wow, this is wonderful! Yet another treasure for us to boast about. Possibly the world’s rarest snake!!  I had to repeat myself for emphasis.

The sad thing is that it is critically endangered and sometimes only one or two may be spotted in a year. In fact, the exact population is not even known but is estimated to be much less than 200. Thankfully, the Forestry Department, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Fauna and Flora International (FFI) are planning a status assessment of this species later in 2011 so a conservation action plan can be developed. 

Sounds like we need a lot more conservationist out there, a great career possibility for sure. Think about it! Meanwhile we can all play our part by getting the word out there and doing whatever we can to protect and preserve our endemic species.

In the 1850’s the racer was considered the second commonest snake species on the island but now it makes its home on Maria Major, an islet in the south of the island. It is a small to medium non-venomous snake that grows up to about 1.24 m (4.06 ft). It is light brown with a dark brown stripe running from the neck to the tip of its tail and yellowish white on the underside. This snake has a blackened pointed snout with a scattering of yellow streaks and black bands behind its large eyes.

The racer is thought to be diurnal (active during the day), laying eggs instead of live young. Though it was popular at one time, even existing on the main land that is now history. Because of the introduction of the Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus), the population has dramatically declined, restricting the species to its present location. As a ground dwelling, diurnal snake, the Saint Lucia racer is particularly vulnerable to predation by mongooses.

The racer faces a real threat of extinction so its survival is greatly dependant on the implementation of major conservation measures. Thankfully, Maria Island where the snake now inhabits along with some other endemics is a nature reserve and was declared so in 1982 by the government of St. Lucia. It is vital that Maria island and all our other off shore islands  which serve as nature reserves be kept free of invasive predators like rats, mongooses, manicou (opossums) and stray dogs. This could ultimately be accomplished with the cooperation of the public especially those who frequent these islands.

St.Lucia Anole (Anolis luciae)

Photos © Dr. Jenny Daltry /FCG International / Fauna & Flora International
Article / Jeannette Victor

Lizards, lizards everywhere; in our homes, work places and yards. Do we consider them as nuisances or treat them as another animal beautifully created by God?  Whilst going about our daily activities we do come into contact with lizards but can we tell the difference in the species?

Commonly known as zanndoli, the St.Lucia tree lizard is endemic to our island scientifically known as Anolis luciae. Although there are two species from the anole family their body markings differ which makes them easier to identify. The male anole may reach a length of 91mm from snout to the base of its tale. There are many colour variations from pale apple green to dark brown depending on if its habitat is wet or dry. The bark may or may not have dark markings but no ring is found round the eye however, the area around the eye may be white, blue, or green. The underside is usually white or yellowish. The dewlap or the bulge which forms in the throat often used to intimidate predators is sometimes grayish yellow or plain grey to brick red with green scales.

The females are shorter in length (63 mm) and duller in colour to their male counterparts. The iris is turquoise, blue or dark brown which brightens the female.

The St. Lucia Anole is not habitat specific and is widespread on St Lucia and the offshore islets. The females and juveniles tend to be found frequently on the ground, where females lay and bury one or two eggs in a shallow nest, whilst the males perch higher.

In this case we have good news. For once we have an endemic which is not threatened or vulnerable but it has been observed that the numbers are fewer on plantations or in areas which have been disturbed or degraded by human activity or natural disasters.

The zanndoli is deemed a predator to crawling creatures such as spiders, grasshoppers, cockroaches, ants and insect larvae off which it feeds. They wait patiently for their prey which could be caught on trees, walls and the ground.

The Anolis co-exists with two introduced anole species: A. extremus and A. wattsi  from Barbados and Antigua respectively, but it appears to be resisting competition, and the two invasive species are restricted mainly to areas around Castries.

Though this endemic species is not on the brink of extinction, we should not let our guard down when it comes to protecting and treasuring species found on our island, creatures which make our biodiversity rich and unique.

St. Lucia Thread Snake

Jeannette Victor

Have you ever seen a dark brown worm that looks very unusual?  You may have thought that you have discovered yet another species!  It is another species but not that of a worm, it is a snake.

St. Lucia Thread Snake or Worm Snake is scientifically known as leptotyphlops bruilei.  This snake is endemic to the island, which means that it occurs naturally only on this island. The Thread Snake is said to be the second smallest snake in the world, which attains a maximum length of 108 mm and is colored dark brown with a pair of cream or yellow lines along its body.

The worm snake is not as widespread as the boa constrictor. It inhabits seasonal dry forest along the coast of St. Lucia and found in soil beneath leaf-litter and under rocks. Only a few sightings have been confirmed to date, which includes Maria Island, Praslin and Anse Galet.

Termites, adults and larvae of ants usually form part of their main diet. They are able to lay for the most part 12 slender eggs which hatches within three months.  The small number of thread snakes on St. Lucia is due to loss of coastal dry forests, use of insecticides and alien invasive species (i.e. species that do not belong to our island but are brought in often unknowingly by others).

In order to protect and conserve this species for future generations we need to ensure that the offshore islands are kept free of alien invasive mammals. The offshore islands include Maria Islands, Praslin Island, Rat Island and soon to be Dennery Island which are managed by the St. Lucia National Trust and Forestry Department.

As proud St. Lucians, we need to educate ourselves on the dangers of bringing in animals from other countries and adhere to the policies regarding the protection of the species found on this beautiful island. The forestry Department is sincerely willing to co-operate with citizens to revamp the rich biodiversity that is required for a cleaner environment.

St Lucia Pygmy Gecko (Sphaerodactylus microlepis)

Jeannette Victor

I am sure if we are ask any questions in relation to a gecko we would refer to the green one seen on the television during the insurance advertisements.  Did you know that St Lucia has its own gecko?

Sphaerodactylus mirolepis is the scientific name for Saint Lucia’s Pygmy Gecko or the alternative name St Lucia Dwarf Gecko. The small lizard that grows to a length of 34 mm from the base of the tail to its snout is light brown or grey above.  Dark brown cross bands can be seen between arms and legs. Dark strips extend from behind each eye and joins at the nape of the neck where a black or brown collar is formed. The top of the gecko’s head ranges from light brown to yellow with dark brown markings. Its tail is brown and the underside of the head and body is white or yellow. Bright green or blue grey iris compliments the gecko’s appearance.

Saint Lucia pygmy gecko inhabits a range of areas, which includes coastal deciduous seasonal forests and lower montane rainforest. They survive by eating mainly ants and other very small invertebrates found in leaf litter on Maria Islands and Grand Anse. Females lay a few elongated eggs that usually hatch in May after five weeks of incubation.

Mongooses, rats, opossums and cane toads contribute to the patchy distribution of the geckos. Other factors being agro-chemicals in plantation areas and loss of habitats by removal of leaf litter for coastal recreational areas.

We, the public can play a vital role in the survival of the St Lucia Pygmy Gecko by keeping alien invasive mammals off Maria Islands and prohibit the importation of alien invasive lizards especially geckos.

Our National Bird (Amazona versicolor)

Photo / Te-Hsin Tsai
Article / Nicole La Force

Most St. Lucians if asked can tell you that our national bird is the Amazona versicolor and many too can tell you its pet name Jacquot. Many would remember the Jacquot Magazine “Bush Talk” where it was “Jacquot say this… and Jacquot say that…..”

If you look at any local visitor’s magazine you would see our national bird prominently featured. The Amazona versicolor is a symbol of our nation, a symbol of our national pride. It’s even on our coat of arms!

The thing is many persons don’t know the history behind all this. Saving the Amazona versicolor from extinction was probably and is most likely to this day the most successful conservation and education awareness campaign to happen in St. Lucia.

We were inundated with images of our parrot on bill boards, T-shirts, bumper stickers, mascots in schools, exercise books, through song and poems and don’t forget the famous Jacquot bus which went around the island spreading the  “Save Jacquot” message.

In the mid 1970’s the parrot population was estimated to be 100 to 150 individuals. This near extinction was due to hunting and forest destruction. This intensive awareness pride campaign became necessary to prevent the parrot’s extinction. The then chief forest officer Gabrielle “Coco” Charles along with famous conservationist Paul Butler, were in the forefront of this awareness campaign.

These are several reasons why the parrot population has increased but perhaps the most important is that in September of 1979, the parrot was declared the National Bird of St. Lucia. Also in 1980 a progressive piece of legislation was passed, that of the Wildlife Protection Act which banned the hunting and capture of all wildlife species in St. Lucia.

In addition, nature conservation policies adopted by the Forestry Department have resulted in remarkable change in the fortunes of the forest reserves and St. Lucia Parrot. The Department’s Environmental Education Campaign has ensured that public concern for the St. Lucia parrot has reduced the incidence of deforestation, hunting and other illicit activates in the forest reserves and provide a springboard for protection and conservation of our national bird.

As it currently stands our parrot population is well over 1500 and could be seen in Millet, Barre de L’isle, Des Cartieres and other areas. It is a beautiful thing to see them gliding through our forest. To think if their hunting was not arrested through laws and education awareness, there probably would not have had one left to be seen and enjoyed. What a shame that would be! It would be like waking up one morning and finding that our twin pitons have disappeared. St. Lucia wouldn’t be truly unique and distinguishable without them.

The message still stands; Jacquot says “stop polluting and destroying our environment especially our forest”.


Picture / Te-Hsin Tsai
Article / Nicole La Force

I am Iyanola, the St. Lucia iguana. The Arawak Indians once called St. Lucia Iyanola, the land of many iguanas. However, this saying is no longer true.  Because of habitat loss, sand mining, hunting for meat and my babies being eaten by dogs, feral cats, mongoose and manicou, I am now endangered.

I can now only be found in the dry forest of the north east coast. I am referring to areas like Louvette and Grande Anse. A few years ago, a survey was done and approximately 1000 of us are left in the wild. Imagine the whole world with only 1000 people! Well that’s my situation since I can’t be found anywhere else in the world but right here in St. Lucia. That makes me unique, one of a kind!

Fun facts about me, Iyanola!
○I am vegetarian; I like to eat leaves and soft fruits.
I can grow up to 6ft / 1.82m.
I can live as long as 20 years in a healthy environment. Yeah!!
We females can reproduce when we’re 3 years old and lay about 20 eggs.

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about me. Please protect me by encouraging others not to destroy my home or hunt me.

If you would like more information about Iyanola and how you can help, please contact the Forestry Department at 468-5645 / 468-5648. Thank you!

Birds, Birds, Beautiful Birds.

Article by
Jeannette Victor
Forestry Department

Isn’t it wonderful to awake to melodious bird song on a beautiful day? It makes our day brighter and worthwhile.  On a day to day basis we see many birds in many different areas and of different sizes and colors.  Some are seen in and around our homes, in our gardens and forested areas as well as by rivers and swamps.  Do we know why birds have such varied habitats?

Birds are usually identified by the habitat to which they have adapted giving them their unique and varied characteristics. Forest birds such as the St. Lucia Parrot and the St. Lucia Black Finch are found in our rainforest where they make themselves comfortable by creating their nests in tall trees and enjoying the tranquility of the forest.  They feed on fruits, seeds and nuts helping with the dispersing of seeds to create the rich forest diversity.

Though forest would seem the ideal place for birds not all birds are found there.  Birds are also found along roadsides and in and around our homes. Some of these include bananaquits, bullfinches and blackbirds.  Those birds form their nests by using dry twigs and leaves and are often found in trees.  Their diet includes nectar, seeds and small insects.

Brown booby and laughing gull are two examples of seashore birds.  They survive on small fish from below the sea surface or along the sea’s shore.  Seashore birds nests on the ground in shallow depressions, on cliff ledges and on flat ground with little vegetations.  They could be seen on the offshore islands like Praslin Island and Maria Island. Many of these are migratory and seasonal.
Some birds are also able to inhabit swamp and marshy areas like the cattle egret and the little blue heron.  Small fish, crustaceans, frogs and insects all form part of their diet.  Their eggs are laid in a tree or shrub among swamp vegetation or mangroves.
Although birds may seem abundant, destruction of their varied habitats make them vulnerable and many have become endangered and even extinct.  We need to cherish our birds and the environment because a walk through the forest without hearing the sweet-songs of birds is like a forest with no life.

St. Lucia Boa Constrictor (Constrictor oraphias)

Photos copyright: Donald Anthony & Nicole La Force
Article by: Jeannette Victor
Forestry Department

I am hoping that after reading last week’s issue we are all aware and proud that St.Lucia is home to four species of snakes.

Constrictor oraphias is the scientific name for the long dark-brown snake that we call the Boa Constrictor. This snake also goes by the local name of Tet Chyenn because it is said that the head is shaped like that of a dog. It ranges in length from 0.5m to 4.3m (20 inches to 14 ft). The skin appears glossy and varies from light brown as juveniles to dark brown as adults with crossbars on the back. The belly is light yellow with black spots. A brown line runs from the snout, passes through the eye and may continue along the back.

The boa constrictor is not restricted to a specific habitat, it could be found almost anywhere all over the island, cultivated fields, forested areas and ravines to name a few.

Constrictor oraphias feeds on birds and mammals such as rats, bats, mongooses and opossums. It skill its prey by grabbing them with its jaw and quickly enveloping it in suffocating coils. The prey then dies since its heartbeat and breathing is stopped.

Many may consider this snake to be a very fierce animal but only appears so when provoked; a loud hissing sound is then heard. Other than that, it enjoys basking in the sun and could live peacefully in any area wherever food is readily available. The boa is a non-poisonous and harmless snake.

It is said by many that the fat of the snake if melted could be used to help heal wounds. It has not been scientifically proven but we do partake in the slashing of the boa in order to sculpt out fat. This discriminating activity is prohibited by the Forestry Department, anyone found guilty of killing, and deliberately endangering a boa constrictor will be liable to a fine of five thousand dollars ($5000.00).

Did You Know?

 The boa constrictor is a sub-endemic species to our island.

 Could give birth to up to sixty-four (64) live young ones in a liter.

 Boas are good swimmers but are seldom found in water.

 They could leap up to 1/3 of their full body length.