An undiscovered Caribbean treasure: The story of the endemic snake of San Andres Island

Through the Save The Snakes Support Grant Program, Save The Snakes supports Maria Victoria Cubillos-Abrahams in 2022 to increase awareness about snakes in Colombia. Her project aims to determine the population status of the San Andrés Red Snake, Coniophanes andresensis, through detectability and occupancy models and microhabitat selection and to learn about the perceptions and attitudes the local people have about reptiles.

Project Title:

An undiscovered Caribbean treasure: The story of the endemic snake of San Andres Island. Ecological attributes and people’s perceptions

Project Summary:

Islands are optimal model systems to understand ecological processes because they are isolated. However, this feature also increases their vulnerability to human intervention. Western Caribbean islands (including Colombian Caribbean islands) are part of two significant hotspots with high diversity and endemicity, the Caribbean basin and Mesoamerica. Coniophanes andresensis, the San Andrés Red Snake, is a critically endangered, endemic, and poorly known species from San Andrés, the largest, most populated, and human-impacted Colombian Caribbean island. Habitat loss, invasive species and persecution by humans are the main threats to the conservation of this snake. The population status and trend of C. andresensis remains unknown, but is suspected to be decreasing due to the threats mentioned above. Currently there are no conservation programs to protect this species and knowledge about basic aspects of its biology is so poor that there are not enough tools to design and implement specific conservation actions.

Given the poor state of knowledge and the threats to the conservation of this species, the aim of this project is to identify the current population status of C. andresensis through detectability and occupancy models, determine patterns of microhabitat selection and identify the local knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, and interaction of the local people with reptiles (and mainly our target species). We expect that C. andresensis will be a rare terrestrial species, with low detection probability, and whose presence will be closely related to microhabitat variables such as the availability of objects that provide refuge on the ground, depth of litter, and canopy cover, among others. From an ethnozoological perspective, this project seeks to create awareness among the islander community. This species is endemic and unique to the archipelago, it is not well known among the locals and does not have a native name.

Aims and Objectives:

This project aims to find two very significant populational attributes of C. andresensis. First, an approximation of the population status through the estimation of detectability by occupancy models. This estimation has shown to be more efficient than abundance to obtain information on the population status of rare species since it requires less sampling effort, it does not require individual recognition of each detected specimen, and the assumptions for modelling are more flexible. Snakes are inherently shy species, and their secretive habits make it difficult to acquire population information in the field, so they are a model candidate for the use of this method. This project also aims to understand the patterns of habitat use and selection. Habitat use is a keystone concept for wildlife management because it allows for determining how organisms exploit the resources offered by the environment. We will test the microhabitat preferences following the concept of the third and fourth levels of habitat selection according to Johnson (1980), which indicate which components of the habitat are used and the proportions of that environment that can be used. There will also be an ethnozoological component that aims to learn about the interactions, perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes that local island dwellers have towards snakes. We will design a questionnaire from a quantitative perspective using a semi-structured survey with closed and open questions.


The goals of this project include creating occupancy models for C. andresensis from selected sites, creating a habitat availability database for each site visited and a drafting a report to determine habitat selection. Surveys will also be conducted with local Island communities to gauge their perceptions about snakes, particularly C. andresensis. These activities will provide a baseline that is necessary to design management and conservation plans for this species.

Maria with a baby sea turtle.

Support Snake Conservation

Maria Victoria Cubillos-Abrahams’s project is a recipient of the 2022 Save The Snakes Support Grant Program. Save The Snakes Support Grants are made possible because of the generosity of compassionate people and organizations who are inspired and dedicated to protect threatened snake populations and mitigate human-snake conflict around the world. Please donate today to help us continue to fund projects like their snake conservation project in Colombia. Thank you for your support.