Blue iguanas’ birth landmark event

The shells of three Grand Cayman Blue Iguana eggs were found last week in the Salina Reserve, indicating that three of the rare creatures have made their way into the world without human assistance.

Fred Burton

Fred Burton reaches into the nest cavity to recover the shells of hatched iguana eggs. Photo: Ann-Elizabeth Nash

This is the first time successful reproduction of Blue Iguanas in the Salina Reserve has been seen since the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme began restoring a population in that area of East End, explained director Fred Burton.

Mr. Burton agreed the find was exciting and called it a landmark event, but cautiously added that he was waiting to see what will happen with two other nests. ‘When all three have hatched, we can party,’ he said.

Volunteers and contributors in Cayman and around the world will be among those celebrating because the births represent the beginning of population recovery for an animal that was close to extinction just a few years ago.

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands began addressing the iguana plight shortly after the non-profit organisation was established by law in 1987.

A captive breeding programme began in 1990, with headquarters at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Iguana eggs were incubated and the hatchlings carefully nurtured. Over the years about 30 have been released into the park’s 65 acres, where they are a significant attraction for visitors.

In a press release announcing the new hatchings, Mr. Burton summarised recent progress in the Salina project.

In December 2004, 32 Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas were released into the National Trust Salina Reserve, inland from the Queen’s Highway in East End. They had been reared in captivity to two years old.

In 2005, 73 more two-year-olds were released in the same areas of the Salina Reserve.

Over the past two summers, teams of local and international volunteers monitored the released iguanas. This year, three females from the 2004 release were seen digging nests to lay their eggs.

On Friday, 8 September, observers saw that one of those nest sites had developed a hole, indicating that the eggs inside may have hatched, with the hatchlings digging their way to the surface.

The nest was carefully excavated, and three perfect, hatched egg shells were recovered from a chamber a foot under the ground. The hatchlings have probably dispersed in search of safe retreats, and have not yet been sighted, Mr. Burton said.

The other two nests, which were laid later in the summer, are still being monitored.

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