Sunday, June 16, 2013

A night out on Tobago

Walking in the oldest protected forest in the Western Hemisphere at night you expect to see frogs, lizards, and snakes as well as interesting arthropods and the occasional mammal, on Tobago this might be an agouti or an armadillo. What you don't expect are feral dogs. Eight of us were surveying the herpetofauna on Thursday night only to find we had been joined by two dogs. They were friendly enough, and accompanied us along the trail  from the beginning to the end. It was a interesting walk with several of the endemic Trinidad and Tobago frogs calling as well as an Oxybelis aeneus sleeping on a branch above the trail and an Imantodes cenchoa stalking a Pristimantis urichi. We came off the trail at a point that required a hike back to the car. Here we encountered a third dog, it was lying curled in the grass, a necrotic ear, swollen jaw, and visible ribs and its behavior suggested it was dying. Lacking a way to kill it quickly we returned to the cars.

One of our canine companions. 
While we were all sympathetic to the dogs they do not belong there, they cause damage to wildlife populations, as well as being a potential human health problem.

The winding road between Charllottville and Speyside on Tobago can be treacherous for both humans and animals. There are a large number of blind curves and when combined with reckless driving (a very common problem on the island) the results can be lethal. While returning from field work a car with its flashers on had pulled over to the side of the road and the people were standing in the road at a relatively wide spot. We slowed down, and then stopped when we saw the 2.2 m boa in the road. Some of us directed traffic around the snake while others took photographs; all the while being warned by an intoxicated on-looker that the snake would bite us if we got too close. The gravid female was quite tolerant of the flashes and people moving around her.

The 2.2 m boa constrictor.

This was the fifth Boa constrictor we had seen during the week. All of the others were road kill, except one that had been dispatched with a machete. After taking a few photos, we dragged the snake off the road.

Boa constrictors are the largest predators on the island with the exception of humans and could be used to help control feral dogs and cats if people would only leave them alone. An education program for residents that emphasizes not killing snakes and not releasing or dumping household pets, as well as keeping them locked up at night, could go along way toward protecting snakes and the forest as well as solving the feral pet problem.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I did not get a chance to officially meet you on the bioblitz, but I am a big fan of your work. I was officially involved with the bird group but was hoping to get a chance to go out with your group - unfortunately that didn't happen. I'm trying to use my photographs to enlighten people about the beauty of our animals in the hope that attitudes will change. Glad you found one alive in the snake fearing society that is Tobago.