The Hog Island Boa: squeezed to the brink of extinction
Timely intervention and subsequent protection of the population looks likely to have saved the Hog Island Boa from the brink of extinction. It became highly threatened from over-collection in the 1980s, but as a result of implementing a conservation management plan for the Honduran islands where it is found, the population has significantly increased.
Collection of reptiles from the wild for sale into the live animal pet trade has seen a rapid expansion in recent decades. The impact of this trade on wild reptile populations is dependent on the intensity of collection, as well as the life history and geographic range of the species.
Certain species appear to be fairly resilient to even very high levels of harvesting, whereas others have shown dramatic and rapid population declines due to intensive harvesting practices.
Genetic analysis also suggests that the populations have not suffered substantial loss of genetic variation as a result of the population bottleneckThe ‘Hog Island Boa’ is a dwarf form of Boa constrictor known only from the two small islands (Cayo Mayor and Cayo Menor) in the Cayos Cochinos archipelago, Honduras. Widely prized within the pet trade for its small size and attractive colouration, the Hog Island Boa became severely threatened from over-collection for the pet trade during the 1980s.
In less than 10 years, collectors had reportedly removed all adult boas from the islands and it was feared that the Hog Island Boa had been extirpated from the wild. Fortunately, increased protection of the islands, following the creation of the Cayos Cochinos Marine Protected Area (CCMPA) in 1993, significantly reduced the numbers of boas being collected illegally from the area.
In 2004, Operation Wallacea initiated an investigation into the effectiveness of current conservation management practices and the recovery of the population. The results of this study suggest that the population has recovered significantly since the creation of the CCMPA with population estimates for Cayo Menor (the most intensively studied population) in the region of 700 adults.
Genetic analysis, using microsatellite loci, also suggests that the populations have not suffered substantial loss of genetic variation as a result of the population bottleneck.
It appears that timely intervention and subsequent protection of the population has likely saved the Hog Island Boa from the brink of extinction. However, if the long-term persistence of this unique island boa is to be assured, increased efforts will be needed to provide local stakeholders with better incentives for protecting these snakes in the future.