Endangered Animals of the Virgin Islands

Nature / January 23rd, 2013

Most Virgin Islands enthusiast whether residents or visitors can name at least a few animals that are commonly found in the islands. Perhaps mongoose, lizards, deer might come to mind; definitely the iguana does for most people. But what about owls, bats or tree boas- yes snakes; would they come to mind? Probably not and perhaps the reason is that these animals are all endangered or threatened. Let’s learn more about some of the endangered animals of the Virgin Islands.

Turtles:
The green turtle, leatherback turtle and hawksbill turtle are all sea turtles that were once very common to coastal waters, coral reefs and sea grass beds around the USVI. All three species nest on sandy beaches, some of which are protected in the USVI in order to prevent further harm to the turtle population.

Leatherback turtles have been around for a long time, over 150 million years to be more exact. They outlived the dinosaurs and are considered the longest living marine species! But today the world’s largest turtle the leatherback which can weigh over 1000 pounds and reach lengths of nine feet is on the brink of extinction.
Baby Leatherback Sea Turtles
Turtles have become endangered because of egg collection and meat harvest by humans; nesting beaches being developed, coral reefs being destroyed and pollutants in the ocean like plastic are ingested by turtles causing their death. Efforts in the Virgin Islands to protect these animals include laws making egg collection and meat harvest of turtles illegal.

Virgin Islands Tree Boa:
The small Virgin Islands Boa has a distinct mottled pattern, light grey-brown with dark brown markings and a cream colored belly with dark markings. They are known to live in steep coastal forest among dry rocky soil. They eat small lizards and more infrequently small mammals and birds. The tree boa is almost never seen in the Virgin Islands, it has become endangered due to large-scale habitat destruction and its demise was greatly impacted by the introduction of the mongoose.

Virgin Islands Screech Owl:
The screech owl was first classified in 1800 by Francois Marie Daudin a French naturalist. It lives in dense woodland, caves and thickets. The voice or call of the owl gave way to it being called a cuckoo bird in the Virgin Islands. It was last reported to have been seen in 1980 and in some references is listed as extinct. The demise of the Virgin Islands Screech owl is due largely too deforestation.

Brown Pelican:
The brown pelican is found throughout the Caribbean and is often seen in the Virgin Islands at beaches and along coastlines. They feed on schools of small baitfish. They are said to nest in very distinct areas of the Virgin Islands, including Mary’s Point St. John, Congo and Whistling cays off of St. John and Buck Island off of St. Croix. The effects of poaching for eggs, young and adult pelicans, disturbance of nestling colonies by humans and reduction of food resources have caused the pelicans numbers to lessen.

Fisherman Bat:
The fisherman bat is a threatened species in the Virgin Islands. The bat roosts in caves near the sea, woodlands and in roofs of old houses. It is not uncommon for several dozen bats to roosts together in a cave. Through the use of echolocation or sonar, the bat detects ripples caused by fish swimming close to the water’s surface and uses it’s long, curved claws to catch them, thus the name fishermen bat. They are good swimmers, and they use their wings as oars. The species’ numbers have greatly declined because of coastal development.

Jewfish:
The jewfish can reach nearly eight feet in length and weigh close to 1000 pounds! It was once fairly common to offshore reefs, underwater caves and old wrecks around the Virgin Islands. It is a crab eater and is said to be very shy. Jewfish numbers have declined due to over fishing; they are not abundant to begin with and they are easily caught.