Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 15, 2023

Contact:

Camila Cossío, (971) 717-6427, ccossio@biologicaldiversity.org
Rafael Joglar, (787) 365-6165, rjoglar@gmail.com
Alberto R. Puente-Rolón, (787) 449-6254, alberto.puente@upr.edu
Eneilis S. Mulero Oliveras, eneilis.mulero@upr.edu
Gualberto Rosado Rodríguez, gualberto.rosado@upr.edu
Sondra I. Vega-Castillo, sondra.vega@upr.edu

Experts Oppose Proposed Removal of Puerto Rican Boa Protections

Snakes Remain Threatened by Development, Hurricanes

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— Puerto Rican snake experts are denouncing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove federal protections from the Puerto Rican boa and plan to oppose the move during a Feb. 16 public hearing.

The boa is a harmless, shy snake found only in Puerto Rico. The animal’s population status in the wild is largely unknown, and the threats that led to its designation as an endangered species persist throughout the island.

The Service has extended the comment period on its proposed rule to delist the boa until March 2. The virtual public meeting is open to the public, which is invited to provide oral testimony on the proposal. Expert biologists and a representative of the Center for Biological Diversity will attend and submit comments.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t just decide we’ve saved the Puerto Rican boa when there’s no reliable data proving that’s actually true,” said Camila Cossío, a staff attorney at the Center. “The agency doesn’t have any population data for the species, which means there’s no basis for this decision. It’s disheartening that the federal government may strip protections from these fascinating snakes for no reason.”

“I’m concerned by the proposal to remove protections from the Puerto Rican boa,” said Rafael Joglar, Ph.D., a Puerto Rican biologist and boa expert. “There’s not enough data to justify this decision, and these snakes continue to face a great many threats.”

The Service’s own assessment of the species refers to the research of Joglar — one of many scientists who has denounced the Service’s proposed rule.

Joglar submitted extensive comments to the Service outlining the lack of data on the species and calling into question the agency’s claims that the boa’s population has increased and is resilient to hurricanes. These concerns were echoed in comments by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, which noted that the Service’s modeling is not based on scientific data and relies on “presumptions and opinions.”

A letter by 10 Puerto Rican scholars and boa experts reiterated that there are currently no “population estimates for this species.” The letter also noted fundamental flaws that the Service based its proposal on, like relying on climate change research out of West Virginia to conclude that climate impacts will not harm the boa. Puerto Rico is an island ecosystem that is more vulnerable to climate change than West Virginia’s temperate ecosystem.

“There are so many flaws with the Service’s delisting proposal,” said Alberto R. Puente Rolón, Ph.D. “As an example, the agency did not consider residential development in areas surrounding El Yunque National Forest where the boa resides, and they assume that because the snake can occur in many habitats it is resilient, without considering the snake’s habitat preferences and the quality of those habitats.”

“The Puerto Rican boa should not be removed from the list of endangered species,” said Eneilis S. Mulero Oliveras, M.S. “The agency does not have any reliable data on the population status of the boa in the wild, yet there are so many threats, including intentional killings.”

The boa is also threatened by increasing development that is fragmenting its habitat. The Service’s own assessment notes that development around protected areas has increased island-wide. Other threats include human persecution due to stigma and fear of snakes, predation by cats, disease, and the illegal trafficking of snake oil for purported medicinal uses, which will likely increase if protections are removed.

Species Background

The Puerto Rican boa is a large, nonvenomous snake found only in Puerto Rico. It can grow up to 6.6 feet in length. Puerto Rican boas can be found in many landscapes, including caves and forests. The boas eat rats, mice, bats, lizards, birds, frogs, and have even been known to eat land crabs and insects. Female snakes give birth to live young instead of laying eggs.

RSPuertoRicanBoa-FelixLopez-USFWSSoutheastRegion-FPWC
Puerto Rican boa. Credit: Felix López, USFWS Southeast Region. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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