So it’s been three weeks since I arrived on island. It is beyond beautiful, the people are beyond friendly, and my new life is beginning to take shape. This past week has been all about introductions. Introductions to the school, to peers, to faculty and staff, and to the island itself. Next week will be an introduction to classes (wish me luck)! In between the go-go-go of orientation lectures, there have been opportunities to get off campus and go explore the island. Me being me, of course, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for wildlife.
Unfortunately, St. Kitts and its sister island, Nevis, have fallen victim to introduced species. So while there are an abundance of birds and marine life, the only two wild (ad one feral) species of mammals on island aren’t endemic species. Both of these species have wrecked havoc on both endemic populations of snakes and small mammals, as well as constantly come into conflict with the people of St. Kitts and their agriculture.
From hiking and snorkeling to just driving around, I’ve been able to see an abundance of wildlife. I thought I’d share what I’ve seen so far, and give a little lesson on the local wildlife for some “Wild Wednesdays”.
I thought it would be appropriate to start off this little series with the national bird of St. Kitts.
The brown pelican. Pelecanus occidentalis. Also known around here as the Booby. The brown pelican are shorebirds that are commonly seen throughout the Caribbean, as well as the mid-to-southern shores of both the East and West Coasts of the United States and both coasts of Mexico. Chances are, if you’ve seen a pelican in the U.S., it was one of these guys.
The species is currently classified by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “Least Concern”, which means that their population is in no threat of extinction. This was not always the case. After the introduction of DDT as a pesticide in the United States, the population plummeted. Once DDT was banned in the United States and thanks to efforts of dedicated conservationists, the species has seen an increase of 712% over the past 40 years, and the trend is still increasing.
These birds are a wonderful paradox of comical and elegant. Around the island, they are often found close to the shore. If they are not perched, they are seen soaring overhead, gliding mere inches above the water, or plunge-diving for their food on the coast. Their diet is primarily fish.
When these birds dive for their food, they hit the water at an angle. Scientists have theorized that this lessens the blow of hitting the water, and protects the esophagus and trachea. Making a miscalculation or an err in form could result in blindness, a broken wing, or at the very worst, a broken neck.
Even though pelican populations are on the rise, it is important to protect these species (as it is important to protect all species, no matter their IUCN classification). To best ensure a future for these comically majestic birds, make sure to do your part to keep waterways clear. Recycle as much as you can. Don’t release balloons on special occasions.Reducing the amount of waste that goes into the ocean is extremely important in preventing accidental ingestion as well as entanglement. Make sure the pesticides you’re using on your gardens don’t have any adverse effects on the local ecosystem. And always make sure to dispose of fishing line and fishing gear properly. It has been estimated that roughly 700 adult brown pelicans die each year in the state of Florida alone due to injuries from fishing line and fishing gear entanglement.
Here in the Caribbean, there are a few initiatives in place for the protection of wildlife and wild places. Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) is dedicated to maintaining the ecosystem, promoting educational programs, and protecting nesting and feeding areas for bird species endemic to the West Indies. Hopefully, as information and education is spread, more conservation-based programs will be formed, and the future of these birds (and all the endemic species on St. Kitts and in the West Indies) will be secured.