Hans Boos' name will not be as familiar to many readers of herpetology books as some of the more well-publicized worldwide authors whom he acknowledges and credits with helping him produce this book such as John Behler, Harold Cogger, and James Dixon; but Boos is nonetheless as towering and authoritative a herpetologist and as spellbinding a writer as can be found anywhere. Before his retirement, Boos made his life's work as curator of the Emperor Valley Zoo in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago where he spent thirty years collecting and observing the snakes of this tiny, two-island, independent Caribbean nation. Forty-seven species of snakes are currently known to occur on these two islands; only four of which are venomous, consisting of 2 coral snakes and 2 viperids (the fer de lance and the infamous bushmaster) that are found only on larger Trinidad. Of this number, 44 are found in Trinidad and 21 in Tobago, 3 of which are indigenous to Tobago. Note, by the way, that Boos points out that the venomous fer de lance is responsible for the majority of deadly bites suffered on these islands, while he attributes a relatively mild temperament to the reportedly sinister bushmaster which, it turns out, has never claimed a life on either Trinidad or Tobago in spite of its huge size and terrible reputation elsewhere in its South and Central American range.
A prime mission in life for Boos has been to educate the local population to treat their mostly non-venomous reptile neighbors with more respect and humanity. About 35 years ago, Boos co-authored a modest booklet mainly for local distribution and consumption to Trinidad and Tobago's schoolchildren to help bring about a much needed awareness of the value of the islands' herpetofauna and the need to protect it. A first of its kind for this tiny nation, this small work has planted the seeds of more enlightened and responsible attitudes in a new generation of these islanders towards their snake co-inhabitants. Boos states that he hopes his current book will help "halt the killing of one kind of animal because of unreasoning fear on the part of another" - a practice which sad to say is deeply ingrained in the local culture of this little twin-island nation.
Boos writes in the style of Ditmars, and it is pure joy to read his book, filled as it is with anecdotes and gripping tales of snakey adventure and folklore in the Caribbean. Scientific terminology is used throughout, along with multitudes of bibliographic references. It is really hard to put this engaging book down and it was a sad moment when I realized that I had finished reading this wonderful work. Boos deserves to be much better known and read, and I envy those who have not yet had a chance to read this book - a treat is in store for you. The scientific validity of this book is nonpareil, with the book being Number 31 in Texas A&M's "W.L. Moody, Jr., Natural History Series", and as such has passed a thorough, first class peer review.
The book contains an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable 30 page Introduction, followed by about 140 pages of Taxonomy and Species Accounts, 40 pages of Snakebite Antidotes and Anecdotes, and two 2-page appendices dealing with specific concerns of the largely snake-illiterate local population. The first of these two appendices deals with the locally popular "Belgian Black Stone" remedy for bites from snakes, dogs, bugs, etc. (Hint: don't bet the farm on using this stone to save your bacon.), and the second appendix is intended to help in "Identifying Large, Diurnal, Mostly Black Snakes in Trinidad and Tobago" (I guess I can be forgiven if I reveal that no matter how panicky the Islanders are about such sinister snakes, none with this appearance is venomous). After a basic 92-term glossary, the book concludes with nearly 700 thoroughly researched references, and an index of about 800 scientific and common names of snakes in English and Spanish. There is also an excellent section of 48 color photographs; albeit they are rather small, fitting six to the page.
It is noteworthy to point out that the Taxonomy and Species Accounts, which represent about one half of the book, not only contain the expected notes about locations of deposited specimens, description, range, local names, natural history, and folklore; but also as much anecdotal commentary as is available. This latter is engagingly written and highly entertaining as well as informative. For example, Boos relates the tale of "the Dominican boa, known as Tete Chien (dog's head), considered by the Caribs in Dominica as big, big, big, with a crest on its head, and able to crow just like a cock. A similar snake is said to inhabit the deep woods of Trinidad, a mythical serpent said to have a comb on its head like a domestic fowl and to crow like a rooster. It is difficult" Boos notes, "to ascertain whether this is a folk belief transplanted into Trinidad from the northern Antilles, or from West Africa, or a relict of tribal Arawakan/Cariban folklore". At the least, this anecdote reveals the strong West African presence in the culture of Trinidad and Tobago and helps explain the Islanders' casual insensitivity towards snakes which is firmly rooted in the West African origins of many of the islands' inhabitants where such attitudes have their origin.
I highly recommend this book as an entertaining read, never mind the extrinsic value it presents to learn all one wishes to know about the ophidian fauna of Trinidad and Tobago. Boos writes beautifully and this book should thoroughly entertain its readers as well as enlightening them. [...]