Most people who either live or visit St John know about the goats that roam the roads (mostly on the eastern end of St John), the donkeys that can often be seen roaming free (sometimes even on the beaches), and iguanas that sun themselves on roads and roofs, but not many know or have seen some of the other critters that call St John their 'home'. I think the most surprising species is the wild boar. Yes, wild boar on St John! Wild boar, also known as wild hog or wild pig, were first introduced to the West Indies by none other that Christopher Columbus in 1493; then to St John by the Danes in 1718. Not to worry, we have been either visiting or living on St John for over 30 years and have never 'bumped' into a wild boar so chances are you will not either. These days, wild hogs are only found deep within the VI National Park lands. In order to protect certain endangered species (plants and animals) that are actually natural to St John, in 2003 the National Park service proposed a policy of 'sustained reduction' to control their population. This 2003 report by the VI National Park Service will provide you with more information than you might ever want to know about our wild hog population.
These days you are more apt to see one of Moses's pigs which freely roam Centerline Road just south of the Myrad Keating Smith Community Health Clinic (by Gifft Hill Road). If you do see one of Moses's pigs look out for a very large cow that might also be roaming the road freely. Here is one of my favorite pictures of Moses's cow and pig proving that we do things differently on St John (note: I would gladly give a 'photo credit' if I only knew the source)!
Other critters known to call St John home are:
deer (white-tailed) - according to the VI National Park Service deer were originally introduced to the Virgin Islands in 1792 from the eastern United States. Much later, thanks to the funding of the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, more deer were brought to both St John and St Thomas. Deer, being good swimmers, have been known to migrate to nearby islands and cays. Deer of the Virgin Islands tend to be significantly smaller than those found on the mainland USA. Our local bucks weigh about 90 to 110 pounds and the smaller does weigh 70 to 90 pounds.
donkeys - were first brought to St John during the days of the plantations. While at first they were domesticated, today, more often then not, the donkeys you might see on St John are wild and roam the hills freely. It is not unusual to see 2 -3 donkeys roaming a beach, usually around Cinnamon Bay or Coral Bay. Donkeys can be friendly but as often can pack a bike so best to stay clear and give them the road if you encounter one along your travels.
goats - again, thanks to Christopher Columbus who brought them to the West Indies and then the Danes who introduced them to St John in the early 1700's. Today, goats roam freely on the eastern end of the island. It is not unusual to see a couple of dozen goats grazing at the ball park in Coral Bay. Who needs a lawnmower?
iguanas - as best I can tell iguanas have called St John their home longer than any other critter! First, while the large ones might look 'scary' they are actually quite friendly, and even shy. Please do not try to get too close for they have strong jaws with razor-sharp teeth and sharp tails, which make up half their body length and can be used as whips to drive off predators. Iguanas range in size from 2 feet to over 6 feet in length. They can also detach their tails if caught and will grow another without permanent damage.
Primarily herbivores, iguanas are active during the day, feeding on leaves, flowers, grasses and fruit. They generally live near water and are excellent swimmers. If threatened, they will leap from a branch, often from great heights, and escape with a splash to the water below. They are also tough enough to land on solid ground from as high as 40 feet (12 meters) and survive. They love to bask in the sun and are often found on sunning themselves on roads, pool surrounds, or, in the case of our St John villa Great Expectations, sometimes on our tennis court!
mongoose (small indian) - in the late 1800's mongoose were originally introduced to the Virgin Islands, via Jamaica, with the goal of controlling rats. However, as is often said 'the devil is in the details' and since mongoose have diurnal habits (they are awake during daylight) and rats are nocturnal (they are awake in the dark), the mongoose's role of rat catcher was rendered totally ineffective. Understandably and sadly, the experiment failed and since mongoose feed on bird eggs and turtle eggs (a bad thing) and snakes (a good thing!) mongoose have created quite a problem on the islands. Consequently, the VI National Park has established a program of controlling their population. While mongoose are still found on St John it is a rarity to see one these days.
And, of course, the island has many domesticated animals including cats and dogs. Until recent years, many feral dogs and cats roamed the island in the wild. Over the past decade, with the help of a couple of wonderful vetininarians and lots of volunteers this is for the most part no longer the case. We are fortunate to have a wonderful Animal Care Center on St John (ACC) that has an active program of adoption and caring for our island's homeless, abandoned or abused animals. They also spend significant energy and resources to educate the public about the importance of over-population and how to properly care for animals. The ACC holds a number of fundraisers throughout the year and if you are lucky enough to be on-island for one you will find a fun and rewarding way of giving back to our wonderful island. Also, if you miss the pooch or cat you left at home while vacationing on St John stop by the ACC and become a volunteer dog walker! We are proud that Great Expectations is a supporter and member of the Animal Care Center. We hope you will support them too.