The best places to eat tacos and llamas in the world is no longer the exclusive domain of the islands themselves, it’s now the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And that’s just because of the new wave of tacos, llamas and other exotic animals from the Caribbean, according to a new study.
“What’s new is that the number of animals is exploding,” said Dr. Michael Pinto, co-author of the study and a senior lecturer in wildlife conservation at the University of Miami.
“There’s now more than 1,500 species of animals, and we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the numbers of animals in captivity.”
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at the global number of endangered species and found that the Caribbean has been the epicentre of global extinction, with about one in four species found in the region having vanished from the planet.
“It’s really an amazing thing, and really important, to have a map of these animals,” Pinto said.
“And the numbers are staggering.”
“We’ve lost a staggering number of species and we need to start thinking about conservation.”
For the study, the authors looked at every species of fish and marine mammals found in all 50 Caribbean islands, including 1,872 species of sea turtles, 1,723 species of sharks, 1 and 1,400 species of rays, and 1 and 2,700 species of whales.
Of these, the Caribbean island of Barbados had the most endangered species in the country, with 1,632 species of the endangered freshwater fish, 1.3 per cent of the total.
It was followed by St Lucia, which had 1,567 species, and the British Virgin Islands, which was home to a whopping 2,890 species.
The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico were also home to the most threatened species in a single Caribbean island.
The researchers looked at each island’s number of protected species and the number and number of threatened species at risk of extinction, respectively.
While the number one endangered species was the common dolphin, which is endemic to the Caribbean Islands, only the Bahamas had a single protected species, the striped bass, which lives in the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and the Caribbean.
The report says the number two species is the turtle, which has declined in the past decades due to habitat loss and poaching.
“The numbers of the turtles and their habitat loss, their decline is staggering,” said Pinto.
“Turtles are really important in the ecosystem, but they’re also vulnerable to habitat degradation, which in turn is impacting turtle populations.”
In the United States, which borders the Caribbean islands on the west coast, the study found that 2,938 species of birds and bats are at risk, including the American chameleon, the common carp, the red-legged cat, the golden-footed frog and the striped finch.
While there are no confirmed cases of the disease Black Death, it can be a significant threat to wildlife, and a recent study found the virus can spread through bites from infected mosquitoes.
In the Bahamas alone, there were 731 recorded cases of Black Death in 2017, a number that jumped to 1,049 in 2018, a year in which the Bahamas was hit by severe flooding.
Despite the threat, the Bahamas has shown an increase in wildlife tourism, with more than $4.4 billion spent on the Caribbean in 2018.
In the year before, it spent just $1.1 billion.
Pinto said the study highlights the importance of conservation efforts in the area, and that it’s a positive trend for the Caribbean as a whole.
“There’s a huge amount of habitat for animals in the United Kingdom, but we don’t have that on the islands,” he said.
“We know there’s a lot of biodiversity on the island, but there’s still a lot that we haven’t seen yet.”
The researchers say they want to see more species of reptiles and amphibians on the reefs of the Caribbean and the US, and more species found on the mainland, in order to better understand the wildlife’s health and survival.
“When we have the knowledge of the species, it allows us to plan for the future and really work towards the goal of bringing the species back to the islands and keeping them here for future generations,” Pintos said.