Monday, January 14, 2008

Bats, Snakes, And Legal Ladders

As my KU Biodiversity Law students enter the final stretch of the class, they learned an impressive amount about law and biological diversity today. Here is their report:

Today was one of the longest but most interesting days we had. In the morning we traveled to the East side of the island to visit a biologist at the VI Department of Fish and Wildlife. We learned more about the troubles facing the Virgin Islands Tree Bo, and also a great deal about invasive species. Although there are laws against the introduction (or facilitating the introduction) of invasive species, enforcement of these laws has been difficult for a number of reasons, including apathy, lack of funding, and lack of knowledge or awareness.

After our discussion, we finally got a chance to see the VI Tree Boa that we had heard so much about. We were grateful that our host allowed the snake to secrete its defense mechanism all over her before she passed it to us. For most of us, it was the first time that we had ever had direct contact with an endangered species, and to behold such a beautiful, friendly, and rare animal was a truly special experience. Just before we left, we saw an example of one of the largest invasive species found on the island: a boa constrictor that was almost certainly purchased in a pet store and subsequently released. With no competition or predators on the island, the snake, which was the smaller of two boas caught so far, had grown to more than 5 meters (15 feet) long.

Over lunchtime, we met with a group of the first ever graduate students studying natural resource management at the University of Virgin Islands. It was interesting to meet a group of people whose research will hopefully help shape the policies that will guide biodiversity law in the USVI in the future.

Later in the afternoon, we got to meet an environmental consultant from Jamaica, who also works in the Virgin Islands. He was able to give us a unique perspective on how laws can differently affect independent island nations and islands that are territories of larger continental nations. We also learned that international laws can be difficult to implement because they are often inappropriately tailored to Caribbean biodiversity issues.

As the sun was setting, we went back to the far West side of the island to catch bats near Botany Bay. A group of researchers had set up the nets, which were much like taller and thinner versions of volleyball nets, and quite effective at catching bats. Of the five species of bats that have been seen on the islands, the researchers were able to give us an up-close look at three distinct species. Much like our experience with the VI Tree Boa, it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that none of us are likely to forget. Perhaps most importantly, we were able to get a three-dimensional perspective on the biodiversity to which the laws we are studying apply.

Watch this space for their final report tomorrow evening.


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