Home News Local news Park Service Wants to Move Endangered Lizards to Buck Island

Park Service Wants to Move Endangered Lizards to Buck Island


April 1, 2008 — In an effort to expand the range of the endangered St. Croix ground lizard, the staff at Buck Island Reef National Monument and other local and federal agencies wants to transplant about 60 lizards from Green Cay to Buck Island.
"Fire, flood, hurricanes, tsunamis," said Zandy Hillis-Starr, the park's chief of resource management, ticking off the list of disasters that could eliminate the existing populations. "They could wipe the species off the planet."
But first federal regulations require that the park solicit input from the public. Hillis-Starr hopes the public will endorse its plan.
The St. Croix ground lizard — Ameiva polops to scientific folks — lives only on Green Cay, Protestant Cay and Ruth Cay, all small islands off St. Croix.
"These are the only three places in the world these lizards exist," Hillis-Starr said.
Green Cay, located off St. Croix's north coast, is a National Wildlife Refuge. It has the largest population of St. Croix ground lizards, with 500 to 1,000 of them living on the cay, Hillis-Starr said.
The Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A biologist with that agency, Claudia Lombard, called the move a definite benefit to the species.
"They're in a precarious state," she said. "It's the only way to expand the population."
Protestant Cay and Ruth Cay are both privately owned, with Protestant Cay located in Christiansted Harbor and home to Hotel on the Cay. The hotel has spearheaded efforts to help protect the St. Croix ground lizard population on Protestant Cay. Hovensa owns Ruth Cay.
Both Protestant Cay and Ruth Cay have small lizard populations.
When mongooses were introduced to St. Croix in the 1900s to get rid of rats, the mongooses ate the lizards.
"They live only eight to 10 inches off the ground," Hillis-Starr said. "They were easy prey."
The last time anyone saw a St. Croix ground lizard on the main island of St. Croix was back in the 1960s, she said.
Scientists believe the ground lizard also lived on Buck Island, but was eradicated by mongooses and tree rats.
When the St. Croix ground lizard was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1984, it required a recovery plan. This necessitated getting Buck Island to the point where the ground lizard could be safely introduced.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services eradicated the rats in a project that lasted from 1999 to 2001. The mongooses were gone by the mid 1990s.
Moving the St. Croix ground lizards from Green Cay to Buck Island is a team effort involving the park, the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a herpetology team from Texas A&M University.
The Draft Environmental Assessment is available for review and comment at Buck Island National Reef Headquarters, located at Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted. Comments are due by April 26. Additionally, copies are available at Florence Williams Library in Christiansted, the Planning and Natural Resources Department at Mars Hill, Frederiksted and the University of the Virgin Islands Library on the St. Croix campus.
It's also available online.
For more information, contact Hillis-Starr at 773-1460, ext. 235, or Superintendent Joel A. Tutein at 773-1460, ext. 222.

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