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Once the rats were cleared from Great Bird Island, the number of snakes doubled in just two years. Although this was great news, it caused a new problem. By 1999, almost 20% of the racers were underweight. Some of the snakes were beginning to starve, because there weren't enough lizards to eat.

When the racer population rocketed to 120, the island suddenly had more snakes than it could support. Great Bird Island only has enough lizards to feed about 100 snakes. This meant that if the racers were ever going to reach what scientists call a "Minimum Viable Population Size", some of them needed to be moved to other nearby islands so that they could start new colonies.

 

Waiting in vain - Antiguan racer
by an empty lizard burrow
 

Before this could be done, the project needed permission, not only from local landowners, but also from scientific experts known as the IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group.

There was another very good reason to find new homes for some of the racers. A natural disaster on Great Bird Island could destroy the whole population (see The Hand of Fate). Putting the snakes back on other islands would spread the risk, so that some snakes might survive even if there was a tragic accident on Great Bird Island.

Racers probably lived on most of Antigua's offshore islands before rats, mongooses and other problems caused them to disappear. Many of these islands still have plenty of lizards. Scientists from Black Hills State University are studying these lizard populations, and helping the re-introduction team to work out the best places to put back the racers (see Other Research).

Unfortunately, the five most suitable islands were still occupied by the rats and mongooses that had killed off the racers in the first place. Before the Antiguan racer could be re-introduced, the alien invaders had to be kicked out (see Back To The Future).

Finally, in late 1999, ten snakes were moved from Great Bird Island to the most suitable nearby island. Five of the snakes were fitted with radio transmitters so that they could be monitored closely for the first six months. So far, the new colony is doing well (see So Far So Good) and more re-introductions are scheduled to take place in the next few years.

 

Snake snack: Watt's anole,
the racer's favourite meal
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