Oceans and Coasts

Conservation of the coconut crab

Protecting a threatened species

Project team: Elrika D'Souza, Vardhan Patankar

Project timeline: 1998 (1 year)

Already locally extinct on some islands of the A & N archipelago, the conservation of the coconut crab will have to be a community-driven initiative

Assessing status and distribution

In this project, we assessed the status and distribution of the coconut crab Birgus latro, categorized as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List. The species is threatened with extinction across most of its range and in India it is found only on a few islands in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelagoes. We carried out informal discussions with Nicobari communities to examine issues regarding conservation of the species and conducted timed searches in areas where coconut crabs were likely to be found. The discussions revealed that there are social taboos against hunting the coconut crab on most of the Nicobar Islands. However, on some islands these taboos are not being followed and community members may hunt the crab for consumption. Although the coconut crab is legally protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act none of the villagers were aware of this. Of the six islands surveyed we recorded the presence of 17 and 14 crabs on two islands, respectively. On four islands villagers reported the presence of the crab prior to the tsunami of 2004, and on two of these islands the species may now be locally extinct. A small population size and a fragmented distribution in areas of coconut plantations suggest that the species is threatened. We recommend monitoring and detailed research on the ecology and genetics of the coconut crab, along with community-based conservation initiatives to conserve the species and its habitat.