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In antiquity snakes were revered for their ability to rejuvenate themselves by shedding their skin. One serpent seems to have done just that and returned from extinction on a tiny island near Saint Lucia in the Caribbean.

The Saint Lucia racer was declared extinct in 1936 but was sighted again in 1973. Non-native mongoose, introduced to the Santa Lucia islands by humans, were believed to have driven the snake back into oblivion after that.

The harmless snake recently slithered back from the abyss of extinction when a team of conservationists identified 11 individuals on a small mongoose-free island near the main island of Saint Lucia, reported Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Miami Herald.

The serpents were implanted with microchips that will help scientists keep tabs on them for up to 10 years. Estimates of the snake's total population range from 18 to 100, making the resurrected reptile one of the rarest animals on the planet.

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"Tens if not hundreds of West Indian animals have already been lost because humans have unwisely released harmful species from other parts of the world, and we cannot allow the gentle Saint Lucia racer to be the next casualty" said Jenny Daltry, senior conservation biologist with Fauna & Flora International on Durrell's website.

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The living whiplash of the Saint Lucia racer speeding through the brush could return to the main island after an intensive conservation and breeding program. However, for now the snake is highly endangered on its 12 hectares (30 acres) island refuge.

Some of the ancient healing magic of Asclepius' serpent entwined staff may be needed to save the life of the Saint Lucia racer.


Main island of St. Lucia, former home of the racer (Jayen466, Wikimedia Commons)

The Star of life, blue version. Represents the Rod of Asclepius, with a snake around it (United States Department of Transportation, Wikimedia Commons)