Blues killed at park

Six blue iguanas are confirmed dead, one is missing and three others are injured after an attack at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park Saturday night.

Fred Burton

Mr. Fred Burton, Director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, attempts to comfort Jessica as he consults with an overseas veterinarian by phone. Photo: Carol Winker

The nine animals represent one-third of the adult breeding iguanas cared for at the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme captive facility in the park.

Programme Director Fred Burton said the animals appeared to have massive internal injuries, as if they had been stomped on violently and repeatedly. Some were cut.

The missing iguana is Pedro. Entrails were found outside his pen, but no body had been discovered by Sunday evening. He is believed to be dead.

Senior Iguana Warden John Marotta confirmed that Pedro, ‘the bluest of the blues’, was the animal introduced to Prince Edward during his visit last year.

All of the animals are named and have personalities that made the incident that much harder to bear for the volunteers who work with them and everyone involved in the programme. Several of the animals have been sponsored by businesses or school groups that take personal interest in their iguanas. Pedro, for example, was sponsored by Webster’s Tours.

Ms Samantha Hicks said volunteers discovered the scene when they unlocked the gates around 9am on Sunday.

One animal was lying on the ground nearby, a left leg missing. He was quickly identified at Eldemire, who had been christened by businessman Kent Eldemire.

The next animal found was Jessica. She was also out of her pen and badly beaten.

A quick check revealed more devastating news. Sara, considered the matriarch of the facility at age 22, was dead in her pen. She was the mother of Pedro and Jessica and had been preparing to lay eggs.

Two males were also found dead in their pens: Digger, sponsored by Simon Hicks, and Yellow, sponsored by Caribbean Publishers.

Males Archie and Billy were injured, as was the female Elwood, sponsored by Wood’s Furniture.

Volunteers notified Mr. Burton, who quickly attended the scene. Enforcement Officer Carl Edwards, from the Department of Environment attended, fast followed by police officers who examined the scene and began their investigation.

Mr. Burton said Dr. Colin Wakelin from the Department of Agriculture treated surviving victims. He closed a large gash in one of the animals and applied antiseptic to others.

Jessica, who had also been preparing to lay eggs, made it through the day, but was showing signs of severe stress and shock. Mr. Burton called the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. The veterinarian there recommended fluids, steroids for shock and antibiotics because it was feared that the eggs would have ruptured.

Mr. Burton and DoE Officer Mat DaCosta-Cottam carried Jessica to St. Matthew’s Veterinary School, where Mr. Wakelin attempted to stabilise her. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she died Sunday night.

The person or persons responsible may have broken into the park after closing hours and found a way into the fenced-in captive breeding facility, Mr. Burton said.

Mr. Marotta pointed out there was no noticeable damage to the fence or gate or any of the structures inside. Juvenile iguanas were not interfered with.

The breeding adults all have large open penned areas with three-foot walls, natural vegetation and natural or man-made retreats where they sleep.

Mr. Marotta said most iguanas tend to settle down for the night around sundown, but the males who were killed liked to stay out a little later. They were also inquisitive and willing to show themselves. But these iguanas would also have been inside their retreats before dark.

Park staff and all who visited the captive facility on Sunday just shook their heads as they wondered why anyone would want to hurt the endangered blue iguanas, which are found no where else in the world.

They were considered to be at the point of extinction until the recovery programme began in the early 1990s. The population has grown, but not enough yet for the blue iguana to come off the endangered species list. It is believed there are about 400 Blues in the Eastern districts.

Mr. Burton urged anyone with relevant information about this violent attack to contact the Royal Cayman Islands Police.

He said Mr. Wakelin was making arrangements for an autopsy, or possibly several, to determine precise cause of death.