Save Blues, save Cayman

Activities planned for the weekend and this past week are all about saving Mother Earth.

What better way to end it than pay tribute to Grand Cayman’s Blue Iguana.

That’s just what former Governor John Owen did Wednesday when he trekked out to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park to take a gander at the Blue Iguana captive breeding facility.

‘We have a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t become extinct; a responsibility to the world in general and in relation to tourism,’ said Mr. Owen.

He’s so passionate about the Blue Iguana that he recently led efforts in London to raise $50,000 for the Cayman preservation project through a combined dinner and auction.

When a coveted bottle of whiskey signed by Prime Minister Tony Blair was put on the auction block the wizened MP who presented it said ‘I’m sure I can get Lady Thatcher’s signature as well,’ related Mr. Owen. With that promise the bottle netted $2.5 thousand pounds, which is more than CI$4,000.

‘It was quite an exceptional event,’ he said.

But unfortunately it was a one off.

Fred Burton, director of the recovery programme, said the money raised in London will go a long way to help in Cayman.

Part of it will help fund field work at the Selina Reserve where 200 Iguanas released from the recovery programme live. Volunteers and the programme’s one full time paid staff member will track the iguanas and take a census, which will be repeated in five years.

Part of the money will also go to architectural fees for a visitors’ centre.

‘We’re trying to invest in ways that the programme can make its own money,’ said Mr. Burton.

‘It was nice going to London and picking up a 30,000-pound check, but it’s not going to happen every year,’ he said.

The annual budget at the recovery programme is about $100,000 with an upward trajectory. If the programme finds much needed land to buy, the budget could well go into the millions.

Mr. Owen asked if it were possible for the programme to lease land. It is possible, Mr. Burton said. But certain stipulations would have to be made.

He is looking into the possibility of buying private land that abuts Crown land.

Saving the Iguanas means saving the entire Grand Cayman habitat, Mr. Burton said.

Animals and plants depend on the Iguanas for survival. They disperse seeds through waste after they eat and act in harmony with other animals and insects.

The desire is to take more of the animals to East End.

‘We very much plan, if we can, to establish a Blue Iguana reserve in East End as a tourist area. It would be controlled and managed as part of the country’s heritage.’

Mr. Owen said he was aware of the Blue Iguanas when he served as governor of Cayman from 16 October, 1995 to 5 May, 1999. ‘I enjoyed seeing them,’ he said.

‘But I didn’t appreciate how vital they really were until I saw Fred last year. They’ve brought it from the verge of extinction.’

It’s vital that Cayman do all it can to preserve the Blue Iguanas as well as the Earth, he said.

‘My view has always been we hold this earth in trust. We hold the Cayman Islands in trust. What legacy are we going to leave our children?’

Mr. Owen will be on Grand Cayman until Saturday catching up with old friends and gathering information to take back to London to the Friends of the Cayman Islands.

While it’s doubtful the friends will hold another fundraiser for the Blues, Mr. Owen is convinced that individual members of the group will continue to rally behind our native creatures.

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