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The Caribbean's hitchhiker snakes


caribbean snakes

For a long time, no one could explain how Aruba's boa constrictors spread so swiftly. They soon realized that the snakes could easily travel long distances by hiding under vehicle bonnets and catching a ride.

This may be the Caribbean of tourist fantasies, but there isn't a rum cocktail or beach lounger in sight. Cacti, thick, sable brown brush, massive rocks, and the occasional nervous goat surround me in this desert region that resembles Australia's Northern Territory.

The fact that snakes - namely boa constrictors - are completely prevalent here in Aruba's Arikok National Park, according to my guide Robert, further adds to the notion that this is no pleasant beach vacation in paradise. In reality, I'm on a wild island with an invading species much more dangerous than the swarms of cruise ship tourists strolling about the city's duty-free shops.

"Someone had some boas as pets back in the 90s," Robert says as we continue walking through the park, the Caribbean sun beating down on us. "They presumably couldn't afford to feed them; fully grown boas need live chickens and such such things." So this individual just let them go. And they seem to like Aruba; they thrive here."

With boas giving birth to live young - 30 to 50 kids each year - it didn't take long for the snakes to reproduce at an alarming pace, wreaking havoc on the island's birds.

According to some estimates, the snakes consume around 17,000 birds every year. But until recently, no one could figure out how the snakes were getting to the furthest reaches of Aruba so swiftly.

Aruba has been a picture postcard destination for mostly American tourists who come to enjoy the vanilla sand beaches, cerulean oceans, and magnificent all-inclusive hotels since altering its status in 1986 to become an independent country inside the monarchy of the Netherlands.

However, in recent years, the boas have frequented beach hotels far from the forest of Arikok. It turns out that these animals have devised a basic but efficient method of getting across the island. They travel through hitchhiking. "They like how hot automobile engines are," Robert says. "As a result, people get into them and are driven all around the island."

The other park rangers' method for dealing with the issue is to establish irregular National Snake Hunt days.

"We pay US$10 to anybody who can bring us a still-alive boa," I'm informed. "Then we hand them over to the government, who destroys them." A dead snake, on the other hand, is worthless.

"The first time we had a hunt day, we couldn't believe how many snakes were brought to us. One man arrived with a bag full of roughly 30 snakes, all of which were still alive. It's challenging for me since I go through this park every day. I'm terrified of them. "I'm delighted it won't be long until I can retire."

Despite not seeing any snakes during my walk with Robert, I decided to partake in a more traditional Aruban tourist activity later that day: taking a boat ride out to snorkel among the parrotfish and other tropical curiosities that swarm, dart, and glide around the warm waters off the Aruban coastline.

Even yet, it didn't take long for the conversation to return to the boa issue.

When I explained my morning stroll in Arikok to Anthony, my skipper aboard his bright red sailboat dubbed the Tranquilo, he rummaged for his phone.

"You have to watch this movie," he said. So, with my back to the sun, I watched a shakily-filmed video of a full-sized boa being attacked and slowly murdered by Anthony's three Jack Russell dogs.

"I was going down a side road when the snake crawled out of the engine and onto the bonnet," Anthony said. "It was insane. I pulled over, threw the snake out of the vehicle into the ground, and the dogs immediately went for it."

Of course, a dead snake indicates that Anthony did not collect his US$10. The boa, on the other hand, seems to have been one of the unfortunate ones. Despite the snake hunts, prize money, and increasingly frantic efforts by islanders to rid Aruba of its new and unwelcome guests, the boas seem to be hitchhiking their way across the island for the foreseeable future.

"They're simply very adept at adjusting," Robert said. "You're much too excellent at it." We want everyone to appreciate Aruba, but the boas are making themselves at home a little too much."

They may grow to be 13 feet (4 meters) long and weigh more than 100 pounds (45kgs)

They have hooked teeth for grasping and gripping prey while wrapping their muscular bodies around the victim and squeezing it till it suffocates.

Boas do not often assault humans.

They will devour birds, monkeys, and wild pigs, and their jaws can be stretched wide to swallow enormous animals whole.

They have a life expectancy of up to 30 years.

Source: National Geographic " 2015

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