Two Cayman Blue iguanas were killed at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park this week, a pregnant female has been mauled and a fourth iguana is missing.
Wild dogs caused the casualties.
Fred Burton, director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, identified the dead iguanas as Slugger and Sapphire, both pioneers in the programme to help bring the Blues back from near-extinction.
‘These two were the most photographed iguanas on the planet,’ Mr. Burton said. He explained that they were both born in captivity in 1997 and released into the 65-acre park in 1999.
‘They were not tame, but they were not afraid of people. They were like ambassadors. Thousands of visitors admitted them and took their pictures, which are now all over the world,’ Mr. Burton said.
There are 26 other blue iguanas roaming freely in the park, he indicated.
The deaths highlight what could be a long-term problem for the park and a situation with irresponsible pet owners.
Slugger was buried Tuesday morning while park staff and iguana volunteers continued to look for his mate, Yellow-Blue, who was not in her nesting area.
She came back late Tuesday, badly injured but determined to finish nesting, Mr. Burton said.
She is missing half of her tail and her back right foot. She is expected to lay her eggs in the next few days.
Until then, Mr. Burton is reluctant to interfere. Iguanas have an amazing immune system and the risk of infection is not great, he said. Further, it would be dangerous to try to medicate her now. After she finishes preparing her nest, she will go underground for a few days. When the eggs are laid, she will come out and go on a feeding spree and Mr. Burton will look at her more closely then.
Right now, it’s better to let nature take its course.
But a fourth iguana, Santa, has been missing for several weeks and Mr. Burton wonders if he was an earlier victim to the dogs.
The problem was realised in earnest Monday morning when a staff member was checking the grounds before the park opened to the public. He noticed two dogs down by the lake and went to chase them away. They ran into the bush in the east and it was then he found Sapphire.
She was badly bitten and died a couple of hours later.
‘This was a red alert,’ Mr. Burton said.
The Department of Agriculture was contacted and officers took another dog trap to the park to go with the one already on the premises.
On Monday night the traps were set and Mr. Burton waited until the iguanas went into their retreats. Slugger liked to spend the night under a plywood ramp leading to public toilets near the iguana facility and Mr. Burton saw him go there around sundown.
It rained Tuesday night and the bait probably washed out of the dog traps, he said.
On Tuesday morning, Chris Carr came early to check the traps. Instead, he saw digging marks by the ramp. He checked more closely and saw two dogs under the toilet building with an iguana.
Mr. Carr was able to retrieve the iguana. It was Slugger and he was dead.
Mr. Burton said Slugger would not have been afraid of the dogs, probably never having seen one before.
‘He was the dominant male in the area. He would have stayed and fought,’ he said. Although he was the largest iguana in the park at over 17 pounds, he was no match for the dogs.
‘If we succeed in catching the dogs, we’ll have to put them down, Mr. Burton said. It was not clear whether they belonged to anyone. They did not have collars and did not act as if they had any training, he indicated.
But along with the dogs, irresponsible pet owners are causing another monstrous problem for the wildlife in the park.
‘Well-meaning people are bringing animals to the park and abandoning them, thinking park staff will be kind to animals. We have found kittens, full-grown cats, puppies and green iguanas and we have absolutely no option but to trap them and remove them.
‘They have no place here and they’re damaging the native wildlife we’re trying so hard to protect,’ Mr. Burton said.
Especially worrisome are the green iguanas. People think they’re cute when they’re little. But then they grow into big lizards and the owner doesn’t want them any more. The green iguanas – with definite black stripes on the tail – are not native to Cayman, he emphasised. They don’t belong here and they are a threat to the vulnerable Blues.
If anything good can come out of this experience, maybe it could be people’s increased awareness of what happens when they allow their pets to roam or when they drop off unwanted animals.
‘Please don’t bring animals to the park. It’s not a home for them,’ he urged.