Brazil’s most deadly island
Located 21 miles off the coast of Sao Paulo is a small island called Ilha de Queimada Grande, which seems ideal for those looking for some private time away from the mainland. Yet this small unassuming island is off-limits to the public, with the Brazilian government declaring it too dangerous for people to visit. In fact, the only people authorised to travel there are the Brazilian military and the countries scientific community.
So why is the island so isolated? It all begins around 11,000 years ago when rising sea levels created this small island. At the time the area was occupied by a mixture of creatures, many of whom now found themselves cut-off from the mainland. Among the mix was a deadly snake called the Golden Lance Head Viper, which contained some of the most potent venom ever recorded.
The venom the snakes delivered had not always been deadly, it simply evolved to their changed environment. Before the snakes could simply bite a subject, and follow the victim until the effects of the venom took control. Ilha de Queimada Grande offered a new challenge, as the island is relatively small, and had now become home to a high population of predators, all vying for the same prey. The snakes needed a venom that could take effect quickly.
This evolved venom is five times more potent than an average snake, and can cause serious damage almost instantaneously. The potency of this venom can have a detrimental effect to humans, with many stating the venom has the power to melt human flesh. It is estimated that a single bite, left untreated, has a 10 percent chance of death, and an 80 percent chance of long-term paralysis.
It is estimated that the island currently boasts a population of over 4,000 Golden Lance Head Viper’s, all of whom occupy an area just 20 percent of the size of Central Park. With no natural predators besides the odd poacher looking to cash in on the black market prices for Golden Lance Head Viper (£17,500), the population is able to thrive.
Despite the high density of snakes on the island, some have in the past tried to populate the island. Many years ago, the island was designated as a potential banana plantation. The local government decided to slash-and-burn much of the islands rainforest to make space for planting. During the development of the island the population of snakes had other ideas, and a string of snake-bite related deaths forced the developers off the island. All that remained was a single light house, installed to warn passing ships. The light house was said to be home to a single family, whose job was simply to maintain the light house, but they too met their demise at the hands of the islands snake population.
Today the island is completely abandoned, as the local light house has now been automated. It only requires a visit once a year by the local armed forces to check the systems are running effectively. As for the snakes they currently sit on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List for critically endangered species. This is due to the snakes limited geography, and the populations inability to grow beyond 4,000. However, despite the relatively small global numbers, it is unlikely they will die out anytime soon, keeping Ilha de Queimada Grande off-limits to the Brazilian people.
Image: Prefeitura Municipal de ItanhaÃ©m