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    Cuban boas make themselves at home in the midst of historic military base

    Cuban boas make themselves at home in the midst of historic military base

    Courtesy Photo | A litter of newborn Cuban boas lies inside a Plexiglas chamber as the initial...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Justin Malone 

    Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs

    GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - A young Marine marches through thick brush looking for one of his favorite apex predators. Sweat glistens all over his body as the heat from the sunbeams down upon him. He continues to walk, pushing and shoving his way through high grass, brush and trees. He sees something moving ever so slightly and approaches a small patch of grass. He calmly reaches down and spreads the grass to see what lies underneath. He smiles. He has finally found it, a Cuban boa.

    In the late 1960s, Dr. Peter J. Tolson, was that young Marine stationed at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He found the Cuban Boas here and fell in love with them, so much so that he dedicated his professional career to studying reptiles and other wildlife.

    After his time in the military, Tolson pursued his dream and eventually earned his doctorate in ecology and evolution from the University of Michigan. Now, decades later, Tolson often returns to NAVSTA to continue his research on Cuban wildlife. During his latest visit to NAVSTA, he focused on the Cuban boas in particular.

    Tolson, the director of conservation and research at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio, normally visits GTMO twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, he said.

    During the spring, the boas begin to mate, which provides ideal opportunities for Tolson and Joe
    Madison, the natural and cultural resources manager with the NAVSTA Public Works Department, to find more snakes.

    The boas mate and stay together for approximately three weeks, said Madison. Ideally, he and Tolson try to find the boas that have radio transmitters implanted in them and hope they are paired with a snake that does not, which provides the opportunity to track more boas. There are 13 boas currently being tracked.

    In the fall, Tolson returns to help track and capture the pregnant females so their young can be born safely in captivity. The baby boas are then measured and weighed before being released back into the wild.

    Tolson is currently assisting Madison in constructing a species management plan, a written document that addresses the specific management of single species. In this case the Cuban boas.

    “It’s a thorough account of a given species and what, if anything, natural resource managers should do regarding the species,” said Madison.

    “The species management plan will look at the specifics of a given species in the area of concern. The management plan will spell out how the species and/ or its habitat will be managed to reach a determined management objective that is spelled out in the management plan. It will also have recommendations or requirements to help protect habitat, if that is a concern.”

    Needless to say, to have a species management plan you have to know a fair amount about the species, said Madison. You have to know what habitats they are using, what they are eating and about their reproductive cycle. All of this helps us know how to protect a species and its habitat, he said.

    The protection of the Cuban boa is imperative because their population is dwindling, said Tolson.

    “These Cuban boas aren’t on the other side of the fence,” said Tolson. “They are heavily persecuted because they eat the poultry and they are a source of food. So this is the best place to study these animals.”

    If a Joint Task Force Guantanamo trooper happens to come across one, it is important to leave the animal alone, said Garrett White, a natural resource specialist with the NAVSTA PWD. Observe from a distance and leave it be. Cuban boas will not strike you unprovoked.

    Tolson said his main goal for the species management plan is to reduce the boas’ mortality rate.

    The boas play a crucial role in the ecosystem, said White. They help maintain the hutia, also known as the banana rat, population. Without the boas, the hutia population could increase enough to have a negative impact on the vegetation and affect all GTMO residents.

    Just about all ecosystems have been altered to some degree by humans, said Madison. However, natural, unaltered habitats, or the closest proximity thereof, provide the best habitat conditions for the native species that evolved in a particular area. As a result, when you start altering the ecosystem, it is difficult, and often impossible, to recognize the true impacts to that ecosystem and the wildlife species that rely upon it.



    Date Taken: 01.15.2016
    Date Posted: 03.01.2016 10:43
    Story ID: 190621
    Location: GUANTANAMO BAY, CU

    Web Views: 179
    Downloads: 0