Aruba and the hitchhiking snakes of the Caribbean

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For a long time no-one could understand how Aruba’s boa constrictors spread across the island so quickly. Then they realized – the snakes could easily travel miles by hiding under car bonnets and hitching a lift.

This might be the Caribbean of tourist dreams, but from where I’m standing, there’s not a rum punch or sun lounger in sight. Cacti, dense, sable brown scrub, immense boulders and the odd skittish goat surround me, in this arid landscape that looks like something more akin to Australia’s Northern Territory.

The fact that snakes – boa constrictors to be precise – are, according to my guide Robert, absolutely everywhere here in the Arikok National Park in Aruba, only compounds the sense that this is no relaxing beach break in paradise. In fact I’m on a wild island, with an invasive species far more deadly than the slew of cruise ship passengers meandering around the myriad duty-free stores in the capital Oranjestad.

“Somebody, back in the 90s, had some boas as pets,” Robert tells me as we continue to walk through the park, the insistent Caribbean sun casting a piercing heat upon us. “They probably couldn’t afford to feed them – fully grown boas need live chickens and things like that. So this person just released them. And they seem to just love Aruba – they’re thriving here.” [. . .] “We give US$10 to anyone who can bring us a boa that’s still alive,” I’m told. “Then we give them to the government and they destroy them. You don’t get any money for a dead snake though.

“We couldn’t believe how many snakes were being brought to us the first time we had a hunt day. One guy came in with a sack full of about 30 snakes – all were still alive. It’s difficult for me as I walk this park every day. I’m really scared of them. I’m glad it’s not long until I can retire.”

Later that day, despite not having seen any snakes during my walk with Robert, I decided to indulge in a more conventional Aruban tourist pursuit, namely 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.

But even here, it didn’t take long for the subject to return to the boa problem.

For full article, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32662173

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