Community backs the Blues

Schools, businesses and individuals are supporting Cayman’s blue iguanas following an attack two weeks ago that left seven of the endangered animals dead and two others injured.

Reward money totalling $11,000 is now available for information leading to an arrest in the case. Other money is being donated for a security system at the blue iguana captive facility or the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme in general.

Fred Burton, director of BIRP, listed several examples of generous giving. In the period 8-10 May, ‘a team of over 50 community volunteers led by Sarah Agnolin and Kurt Christian raised an astonishing $12,903 in cash donations from the public over three days stationed in Hurley’s Grand Harbour and Foster’s at The Strand,’ he said.

Mr. Burton distinguished between money received and money pledged.

He also pointed out that money given to BIRP is separate from funds received by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands in conjunction with Crime Stoppers. Last Thursday morning, the total stood at $7,710. Then representatives of dms Broadcasting Ltd delivered the $5,000 pledge soon after news of the iguanas’ deaths became public.

National Trust development and marketing manager Caroline Key confirmed the amounts. ‘This means we have reached our total reward fund of $11,000 and any donations that come in now will be applied directly to BIRP, with the primary focus being on security of the facility,’ she said.

Mr. Burton detailed some of the contributions and pledges received specifically for a security system at the BIRP captive breeding facility located inside the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park. ‘In particular, Walkers (law firm) has pledged to underwrite costs of a security system, and Sagicor also made a donation for this purpose,’ he said.

The iguana programme has also received substantial unrestricted donations, to be used wherever the need proves greatest. Mr. Burton reported a grant of $20,000 from Greenlight Re.

In addition to purely financial support, both government agencies and the private sector are contributing in other ways, Mr. Burton reported. He said the Departments of Agriculture and Environment were placing considerable resources in support of the police investigation.

Personnel from both departments were also helping the surviving injured blue iguanas, along with St. Matthew’s Veterinary School and Island Veterinary Services.

Ocean Frontiers provided free accommodation for International Reptile Conservation Foundation personnel who came to assist during the crisis, Mr. Burton said.

Several other local businesses, schools, and associations are adding their weight to the effort, either in fundraising or other suggestions for assistance, he noted.

Last week Tuesday, officials of the Cayman Islands National Museum pledged a contribution. Acting Director Debra Barnes-Tabora emphasised the importance of the blue iguana to Cayman’s natural and cultural history, pointing out that it is found nowhere else in the world.

BIRP is a recovery programme in the sense of recovery of the species. Information on its website indicates that a government-sponsored survey in 1988 found the iguanas to be so scarce that extinction seemed imminent. The National Trust began the captive breeding programme in 1990.

BIRP’s goal is to restore at least 1,000 blues to the wild. In its latest newsletter it reported 234 released so far.

Meanwhile, the first eggs of the year are being laid by the surviving captive Blue Iguana breeders, Mr. Burton reported.

Volunteers from the Ritz-Carlton Ambassadors of the Environment have been helping BIRP Head Warden John Marotta in excavating the nests. Eggs will be placed in an incubator, keeping them in an optimum environment and safe from natural predators such as the racer snake or agouti.

One of the new mothers, coincidentally, is Sunset U Gal Ebanks who laid seven eggs. Sunset was sponsored and named by Caymanian supermodel Selita Ebanks, who visited the iguana facility to show her support two days after the animals were attacked.