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Watching Wildlife in the U.S. Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands National Park is a tropical American park that preserves about 60% of the land of Saint John within the United States Virgin Islands. The park houses more than 5,500-acres of ocean, half of Hassel Island, and the Saint Thomas harbor. Ferries take visitors to and from the park out of Red Hook, St. Thomas, and an additional three times per day from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Upon arrival, the park’s visitor center can be accessed in Cruz Bay.

The park is most famously known for scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as its hundreds of hiking miles that provide visitors with views of tropical rainforest. Due to its gorgeous access to the Caribbean Ocean, the park is at risk for high wind hurricanes. Two category 5 hurricanes hit the islands in 2017 alone, both Irma and Maria. However, that hasn’t stopped park visitors, with more than 112,287 making the journey in 2018 to take in the natural flora and fauna.

The history of the park is unique in that it came about from a selfless land donation. In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole Preserve donated the land to the National Park Service under the conditions that the land would not be developed further. Today, the park protects waters, coral reefs, and delicate shorelines. In fact, the park’s boundaries have been expanded since its founding in 2001 when the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument was founded.

Today, the Virgin Islands National Park is home to 140 species of birds, 302 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians, 22 species of mammals, and 74 species of plants. There are also about 50 coral species, as well as tons of sponge varieties. It’s what makes the islands one of the top snorkeling destinations in the entire world.

Virgin Islands National Park’s Top Animals

Highly unique to U.S. parks, the only animal native to the Virgin Islands National Park is the bat. These bats can be found in caves in less populated areas of the islands, where they fly only in the evening hours. It’s not uncommon to see a few dozen bats roosting together in one of the caves.

Today, there are non-native animals that have been domesticated on the islands, including:

  • Deer
  • Goats
  • Sheep
  • Donkeys
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Mongoose
    • Native to South Asia, the mongoose was introduced to the Virgin Islands to control the rat population. Instead, the mongoose made its own habitat and started to destroy snakes and birds. It has been a problem since their introduction.
  • Pigs
  • Iguanas
    • A reptile native to the Caribbean, iguanas are bright, florescent reptiles that sun all day in the hot rays. They can grow up to 6 feet long including their tail, which makes up half of their length.
  • Hermit crabs
    • These cute, tiny crabs which are often used as pets in households today can be seen around the islands. Unable to make their own shell, these crabs hop from shell to shell as they grow. In fact, they spend the majority of their lives finding their next shell.
  • Lizards
    • It’s common to see male anoles, geckos, and other small lizards on the islands.

You’re likely to see many of these animals roaming the streets of St. John.

Viewing Locations

Trunk Bay: Soak up the sun while you view dolphins, fish, sharks, and crabs.
Cinnamon Bay: Foray into the waters to see the same fauna as listed above.
Salt Pond Bay: Look down into the tide pools and have fun with hermit crabs. Remember: look, don’t touch.
Reef Bay Trail: Peek into the caves along the trail to see if you can spot any bats. It’s best to go with a professional tour guide.

When Should You Go?

The Virgin Islands National Park is a great destination year round thanks to its sun and surf. Temperatures can be scorching hot in the summer, although the ocean breeze can make it bearable. Even in the winter months, the weather is still beautiful, making it a nice getaway.