Next two weeks critical for Blues

If two blue iguanas are still alive by the end of the month, they will probably survive injuries inflicted over the weekend of 3 May at their home in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.


Dr. Stephanie James checks on Billy, one of the injured iguanas. Photo: Carol Winker

That’s the assessment of veterinarian Stephanie James, who came to Cayman last week after the seventh blue iguana died of his injuries on Tuesday, 6 May. He had been found just that day.

Four of the endangered blues were found dead inside the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme facility on the Sunday morning. A fifth died Sunday night and the body of a sixth, who had been presumed dead, has since been found, confirmed programme director Fred Burton.

Mr. Burton said he called the US-based Wildlife Conservation Service for assistance on Wednesday and Ms James arrived the next day.

Typically, he explained, iguanas receive external injuries from their natural environment and they seem to fend off infection with incredible proficiency. The injuries to the two adult males – Billy and Archie – are internal. ‘That’s a whole new ballgame,’ Mr. Burton said.

Ms James, who is qualified in zoo medicine, could not say what happened to Billy and Archie, but she found evidence of severe blunt trauma to the thorax – the area of the lungs and rib cage – and some external injuries to the extremities.

‘I have dealt with injuries to lizards from trauma in a zoo setting. I took that information and applied it to treatment of these guys,’ she said.

One of her diagnostic tools was blood work, which showed that both animals were anaemic. ‘That would tell me they were probably bleeding internally,’ Ms James said.

The animals are being treated with pain killers, antibiotics and lots of fluids. The bleeding seems to have stopped, but blood clots need to dissolve and the kidneys have to be able to flush out the by-products of the trauma.

‘I would think it will take about three weeks since treatment started before we can say the animals will recover from the incident,’ Ms James said. ‘They will most likely have lasting effects that we won’t be able to see.’

Damaged tissue doesn’t heal like normal tissue, she explained; scar tissue will form instead, so the animals’ lung capacity will be affected.

‘We kept the exams and handling to a minimum so as not to exacerbate the interior injuries I was pretty sure they had.’ Nobody wanted the blood clots to start bleeding again.

She found that Billy has a fractured rib, but there is no surgical repair for this type of fracture. It is better left to heal on its own, she said.

Archie’s left rear leg is mashed, but it’s the muscle, not the bone and will heal in time. He may heal completely or he may be lame the rest of his life, Mr. Burton said.

Iguanas are very high-risk patients, Ms James said, with anaesthesia being just one factor. ‘The more we handle them, the more damage we can do.’

If Billy does recover, it is possible he could be released into the Salinas Reserve, Mr. Burton said. ‘He would probably end up limiting his territory. Normally, he would dominate 50 acres – maybe more. Without his normal endurance – because of decreased lung capacity – he may not be able to keep up the pace for that size area.

‘I don’t think he’ll ever realise the potential he once had,’ Mr. Burton concluded.

Although the Wildlife Conservation Society is based in New York, it has programmes al over the world, she said. A non-profit organisation, it has been involved in the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme for seven years, coming down to assess iguanas before they are released into the wild.

Ms James was scheduled to leave Cayman on Wednesday. The course of treatment she designed will continue through Dr. Elisabeth Broussard of Island Veterinary Services. The two veterinarians will remain in contact.

‘To my mind, there was an incredible display of teamwork to make my trip happen and give support while I was here,’ Ms James said, listing the Department of Agriculture, the Veterinary Board, Department of Environment and National Trust.

Security update

Since the attack on nine blue iguanas earlier this month, the focus is on security for the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme compound inside the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, said director Fred Burton.

Security will involve electronic and human components, he said. Guards are already on duty.

Security companies are keen to help, and three have looked at the facility with a view to coming up with detailed proposals.

‘We have to sort out what is the most effective package and then not waste time – just get on with it,’ Mr. Burton said.

It is possible to move ahead with a security system because funds are being pledged for it – apart from the fund for a reward offered through Crime Stoppers. ‘The sudden upsurge of financial support from the community is particularly welcome at this point,’ he commented.

Security, however, is not just the installation of a system. It involves maintenance and ongoing costs.