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News from the Hog Island: there are still survivors!2006-07-26

As known, boas were exported in large numbers from Cayos Cochinos islands, Honduras in the 1980ies. They became known and popular as "Hog Island boa", while Cayos Cochinos had been exploited.

Insular forms like Hog Island, Corn Island, Bahia Island, Crawl Cay, Cay Caulker all have much attention from hobbysts. Insular populations often feature small size, distinct appearance, calm temperament, that are favoured by animal trade.


Map of Cayos Cochinos. Photo: www.cayoscochinos.org


Story of Hog Island boas began in 1979, when exploitation of Cayos Cochinos- which had been unknown to animal traders before -started.
Cayos Cochinos includes two island-, Cayo Meyor and Cayo Menor -and 13 smaller coral reefs that have a total area of 2,28 km2.

An American animal trader was the first who asked the natives to help him capturing boas. Natives were given 150 Lempira that time for every captured specimen. The larger the boas captured, the higher the rewards were. Collecting and selling boas meant a better chance of subsistence for most local people, thus more and more people were involved each year. At the peak of trade almost all Cayor Menor were searching for boas. One former collector has confirmed, there were 60-70 people looking for boas back in the days. Another person claims that 1200 specimens were captured during a trip, while number of caught animals could reach 300 a day!

Number of animals exported decreased by 1986, as the population became exhausted. After capturing, animals were moved to  San Pedro Sula, then smuggled to Nicaragua. From there, they were exported to the US and Europe by fake documents. By the time of reaching destination, their price was as high as 1000$.
Exploitation continued until 1993, when Honduran Coral Reed Foundation was found. Honduran authorities all agree that exportation of boas had always been illegal. However, due to distance between islands and mainland and the lack of permanent presence of authorities, there was nothing that could stop animal smugglers. Though, we have no exact information how many Boa constrictors were exported from Cayo Cochinos, some sources estimate 5000-15.000 specimens from 1979 to 2004. Meanwhile, boas had disappeared from all 13 reefs and were decreased in Cayo Menor and Cayo Mayor.

Although number of smuggler reduced since the 1980ies, it has not been ceased. In January of 2004, two men were arrested for trying to smuggle 45 boas from the islands. After their release, they claimed that 32 speciment had already left Cayo Mayor by the time of arresting. Those specimens certainly persihed, while the smugglers were spending their arrests.


Animal smugglers just been caught in 2004. Photo: Ecology and conservation of an exploited insular-endemic population of Boa constrictor (Squamata: Boidae) in the Cayos Cochinos, Honduras


45 specimens were moved back to Cayos Cochinos by the authorities Photo: Ecology and conservation of an exploited insular-endemic population of Boa constrictor (Squamata: Boidae) in the Cayos Cochinos, Honduras



Few months ago, some boas labeled as "WC Hog Island boas" also appeared on one of the major reptiles sites, which also indicates that exploitation has not stopped, only decreased.

Several experts claimed they did not find another specimens in the early 1990ies, which led most of us to believe Hog Island boa extincted in the wild.
However, an expedition began to discover and describe the remaining population by Robert N. Reed, Scott M. Boback, Chad E. Montgomery and Steve Green in 2004. This study had been done from July 3rd, 2004 to September 3th, 2005. Animals captured were measured for size, weight, sex. Temperature sensors and chips were also implanted for further recognition. Animals were released at the place of capture within 48 hours.


Implanting chip and thermometer. Photo: www.cayoscochinos.org


81 specimens, 36 males and 45 females have been collected in 2004, while 105 (52 male, 53 female) were examined in 2005 (recaptured animals excluded each year, however recaptures from pervious year are included). 169 specimens were examined in Cayo Menor, not counting recaptures over to two years. At the time of capturing 46 specimens were in the ground lever, 150 were in trees (recaptures included). Only animals from Cayo Menor were studied, as this is the only island unmolested and a major population should have remained there.


Hog Island prefer semiarboreal living. Photo: www.cayoscochinos.org


The study was not detailed enough to estimate the exact number of population. According to Lincoln and Peterson, it is assumed there could be 500-700 speciment existing in Cayor Menor these days.

However, it was confirmed these boas show strong sexual dimorphism, in contrast with island populations of Belize for instance. Female Hog island boas are definitely longer and heavier than males. Measured females were between 25-205 cm (averaging 107 cm), while males were between 61-120 cm (averaging 92 cm). There were even more difference in weight: females between 31-5500 gram, males beween 40-750 gram.


One of the specimens being examined. Photo: www.cayoscochinos.org


Only 8 specimens were in progress of digestion when being captured. All 8 specimens preyed a local lizard (Ctenosaura melanosterna) and a bird (Quiscalus mexicanus) species. It is no wonder, because there are no bigger mammals on these islands. Besides, this diet also answers why these boas are considerebly smaller than their mainland relatives.

Temperature sensors also gave useful informations: 140 specimens' temperature were between 24,5 és 36,2 °C, 90 of them had between 29 és 30,9 °C.


Freshly caught adult female. Photo: www.cayoscochinos.org


Athough, Scott Boback's team delivered lot of informations, destiny of Hog Island boas will remain doubtful. As we mentioned, animal smuggling has not stoped, therefore Honduran authorities will have a great responsibility in conserving this locality. As there are no natural predators of boas on the islands, boas have good chance to restore their population in the future, as long as authorities stop the animal trade. We are hoping...

Source: Robert N. Reed, Scott M. Boback, Chad E. Montgomery, Steven Green, Zoe Stephens, Daniel Watson: Ecology and conservation of an exploited insular-endemic population of Boa constrictor (Squamata: Boidae) in the Cayos Cochinos, Honduras www.cayoscochinos.org

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