1,869Grants to

1,236(Sub)Species

Sancti Spiritus Trope (Tropidophis spiritus)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 170515264

Ecology and conservation of threatened endemic Dwarf Boas’ genus Tropidophis in central Cuba

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 170515264) - Sancti Spiritus Trope - Awarded $4,000 on September 30, 2017

The Neotropical Dwarf Boas or Tropes (genus Tropidophis, family Tropidophiidae) comprise five species in continental South America (Curcio et al. 2012) and 27 species in the West Indies (Hedges 2002; Rodríguez et al. 2013). Cuba is the center of diversification for this group, with 16 species, all endemic to this country (Hedges 2002; Rodríguez et al. 2013). They are beautiful, nocturnal, viviparous, constricting snakes usually ranging in snout-vent length from 18 to 60 cm, which feed mostly on lizards and frogs (Henderson and Powell 2009). However, the Goliath of the group, the Cuban Giant Trope (Tropidophis melanurus), may exceeds one meter and weights nearly one kilogram, being able to prey also on small rodents and birds (Rodríguez-Cabrera et al. 2017).

Many of these species are habitat-specific snakes with restricted distribution ranges. The whole family is included in the Appendix II of CITES and nine Cuban species were listed as Critically Endangered, one as Endangered, and one as Vulnerable in the Red Book of Cuban Vertebrates (González et al., 2012). However, only one out of these eleven species (The Cuban Khaki Trope, T. hendersoni, from eastern Cuba) has been published in The IUCN Red List (Powell et al. 2010). The Guamuhaya Massif and immediate adjacent lowlands, in south-central Cuba, harbors six trope species, three of them (T. spiritus, T. galacelidus, and T. hardyi) considered Critically Endangered and known only from a few localities. The Escambray Small-headed Trope (T. hardyi) is the rarest of all; it was seen last time in 1957 (60 year ago), its natural history is completely unknown, and has never been photographed in life (Schwartz and Garrido 1975; Rodríguez 2012). Native forests in this region, the main habitat for tropes, have suffered an intensive deforestation for centuries. However, the main threat that dwarf boas face in Cuba is people ignorance, who confuse them with “juveniles” of the Cuban Boa. The letter is a very large (> 4 m) endemic boid that frequently prey on domestic animals, increasing the human-predator conflict and resulting in collateral damages like the intentional killing of dwarf boas.

Furthermore, snakes have been historically considered evil creatures surrounded by myth and calumnies all over the world.  This has induced human fear to such an extent that they are routinely killed for no reason other than for being snakes. But, the main allied of such an intentional killing is ignorance. The awareness of local people is crucial for the survival of these Cuban endemic threatened snakes.

Objectives

1.      To assess the ecological requirements, distribution boundaries, and current conservation status of dwarf boas in central Cuba, making emphasis on the threatened regional endemic species.

2.      To promote conservation awareness involving the target species and other endemic snakes occurring in central Cuba.

Activities

1.      To collect critical ecological variables for the target species and identify all threats natural and anthropogenic affecting their populations and habitats.

2.      To reassess the conservation status of the target species using the information gathered directly in the field and propose its inclusion in the IUCN Red List.

3.      To generate accurate distribution models using GIS technology and based on the ecological information gathered during the field work phase of this project.

4.      To produce and distribute quality posters and photographic field guides that help local people in identifying the target species and other endemic snakes in the region, on their ecological importance, and how to protect them.

References

- Curcio, F.F., P.M. Sales Nunes, A.J. Suzart Argolo, G. Skuk, and M. Trefaut Rodriguez. 2012. Taxonomy of the South American dwarf boas of the genus Tropidophis Bibron, 1840, with the description of two new species from the Altlantic Forest (Serpentes: Tropidophiidae). Herpetological Monographs 26: 80–121.

- González Alonso, H., L. Rodríguez Schettino, A. Rodríguez, C.A. Mancina, and I. Ramos García (Eds.). 2012. Libro Rojo de los Vertebrados de Cuba. Editorial Academia, La Habana. 304 pp.

- Hedges, S.B. 2002. Morphological variation and the definition of species in the snake genus Tropidophis (Serpentes: Tropidophiidae). Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, London (Zoology) 68: 83–90.

- Henderson, R.W. and R. Powell. 2009. Natural History of West Indian Amphibians and Reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

- Powell, R., G.C. Mayer, and S.B. Hedges. 2010. Tropidophis hendersoni. In: IUCN 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. . Downloaded on 15 January 2017.

- Rodríguez-Cabrera, T.M., J. Rosado, R. Marrero, and J. Torres. 2017. Birds in the diet of snakes in the genus Tropidophis (Tropidophiidae): do prey items in museum specimens always reflect reliable data? IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians 24(1): 61–64.

- Rodríguez Schettino, L. 2012. Tropidophis hardyi, p. 175. In: H. González Alonso, L. Rodríguez Schettino, A. Rodríguez, C.A. Mancina, and I. Ramos García (Eds.), Libro Rojo de los Vertebrados de Cuba. Editorial Academia, La Habana.

- Rodríguez Schettino, L., C.A. Mancina, and V. Rivalta González. 2013. Reptiles of Cuba: Checklist and geographic distributions. Smithsonian Herpetological Information Service 144: 1–92.

- Schwartz, A. and O.H. Garrido. 1975. A reconsideration of some Cuban Tropidophis (Serpentes: Boidae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 88(9): 77–90. 

Project documents