New Research on Jamaican Endemic Species in Blue and John Crow Mountains


It is wonderful to hear about two major research programmes that have started up in the Upper Rio Grande Valley in Portland, a part of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park – thanks to generous donors. Both the species under investigation are extremely vulnerable, for differing reasons. Fundamentally, though, they are threatened by human activity, and conservation action is urgently needed.

Please find details below from the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT):

July 6, 2018

Wildlife Research in the Blue and John Crow Mountains

This summer two major wildlife research programmes have been initiated to provide scientific information to assist in the conservation of two of Jamaica’s endemic species – the Giant Jamaican Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio homerus) and the Jamaican Hutia or Coney (Geocapromys brownii). The research focuses particularly on the upper Rio Grande Valley between the Blue and the John Crow Mountains and is of special significance as these two species are listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered. This means that there is a risk of the species becoming extinct without successful conservation action. Both species are protected under Jamaica’s Wildlife Protection Act but are still under threat from deforestation, hunting/collection, and predation by the mongoose.

The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly is the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere and is endemic or unique to Jamaica and listed globally as endangered due to deforestation and collection. It is known only from the Blue Mountains and also the Cockpit Country – but the population there seems smaller in number. Further, there are physical differences between the butterflies and they each lay their eggs and the caterpillars feed on two different wild plant species. DNA analysis will be conducted to find out if the two varieties are actually different species which will require different conservation management plans. The research is led by Dr. Eric Garraway, University of the West Indies and funded partially by the Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust with a donation from the Howat family in honor of a relative who studied the Giant Jamaican Swallowtail in the early 1960s.

The Jamaican Hutia or Coney (Geocapromys brown). (Photo: Ricardo Miller)

The Jamaican Hutia, commonly known as the Coney or Grazie by members of the Maroon community, is a rabbit-sized, nocturnal rodent that once made an important contribution to the diet of the freedom-fighting Maroons. As Colonel Wallace Sterling, leader of the Moore Town Maroon Council has indicated, the Maroons no longer hunt this protected species, although hunting dogs on wild hog hunts may take the animals on occasion. However, the Council has expressed concern that the animals are increasing and pose a threat to vegetable and root crops. This concern led the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), manager of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), to seek funds for research into the matter. Assistance has been received through a Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) Project, which is supporting other studies, plans and training for the National Park and its neighboring Maroon communities. The one year study will assess the population and distribution of the Hutias in the Moore Town area, community perspectives and with this information, prepare a conservation and management plan for the species.

The work of the National Park through its manager the JCDT and local community partners, e.g. the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association, is believed to be one of the reasons for the possible improvement in the population of the species in the upper Rio Grande Valley. Despite this, the animals are still under threat. The Giant Jamaican Swallowtail is prized by collectors, who unfortunately pay a high sum for a dead butterfly to place in a glass case. The Jamaican Hutia is under threat from hunters and hunting dogs and possibly its taste for farmed crops. The long-term survival of these spectacular and unique species will depend on increased knowledge and understanding about the species and their needs, improvements in conservation and expansion of sustainable community tourism in the area as visitors will pay annually for a chance to see these animals, enjoy their beautiful habitat and a local community experience. The JCDT is committed to continuing its conservation and sustainable development work in the Blue and John Crow Mountains for the benefit of Jamaica and the world.

Giant Jamaica Swallowtail Butterfly. (Photo: JCDT)

For more information, contact Dr. Susan Otuokon, Executive Director, Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, Manager of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and World Heritage Site. Tel: (876) 363-7002; email: jamaicaconservation@gmail.com. Website: http://www.blueandjohncrowmountains.org.

 


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