The Blue Iguana Recovery Fund is forging ahead.
Despite admitting that there are still a lot of challenges ahead for the programme, not least of which is funding, Director of the programme Mr. Fred Burton said, ‘But we’re hoping we can bring the animal off the endangered list in the next five years or so.’
A mysterious brutal attack in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in May last year left seven blue iguanas dead. The iguanas were in an enclosed facility run by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.
A few months later in August there was another attack – this one by roaming dogs who formed a pack and entered the park. They attacked the free roaming iguanas killing two of them.
There was an emergency response from park staff, who, with help from the Department of Agriculture, managed to capture the dogs.
In June 2006 there had been another dog attack.
Both events show a very similar pattern, Mr. Burton said. ‘It was dogs rampaging through the park, killing wildlife with dog tracks everywhere. It was very obvious it was dogs and very messy,’ he said.
Mr. Burton said the attack in May was different to the other two attacks.
Although autopsies on some of the iguanas showed five of the deaths were consistent with dog bites, Mr. Burton said the circumstantial evidence points to human involvement. ‘It was just way too controlled,’ he said. Unfortunately the forensic evidence was not found to prove that, he added.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service confirmed this week that the police investigation into the matter has ended
‘There was no evidence to warrant further investigation and no evidence that there were people involved,’ said PR Officer Deborah Denis, who added that all possible avenues had been exhausted.
The good news for the programme is that there are 130 eggs head-starting this year and the first eggs will be ready for hatching the end of the month.
The plan will be to raise them for two years and then release them into the new blue iguana reserve on crown land in the east interior of Grand Cayman.
Security has been stepped up at the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.
A tall security fence is around the facility and although the fence now hides the blue iguanas in the breeding pens from the public on the woodland trail, visitors can still see free roaming iguanas in the park as well as partake in the Blue Iguana Safari tour, which takes place at 11am every day except Sunday.
Tickets are $24 (adults) and $16 (children 12 and younger), which includes the price of entrance to the park.
The guided tour is an hour and a half walking tour.
‘We tried very hard to find a way to secure the facility while still making it visible from the woodland trail but it was just not practical,’ he explained.
There are now two blue iguana wardens employed under the programme and the aim is to start promoting the tour more actively.
Those taking tours are mostly walk-ins, he said.
For two years the programme had a contract with the two major cruise lines but it didn’t work out, said Mr. Burton, as the shore executives wanted larger groups than the tour was getting. Now people from cruise ships often enquire about coming to do the tour independently, but transport to the Botanic Park is the big hurdle for them.
This past fiscal year (which ended in June) the tours raised $10,000 for the programme and they are setting themselves up to get a better income this year.
What has helped close the monetary gap for the programme has been a $20,000 a year donation from Walkers for the past three years.
They also had lots of donations last year stemming from the May tragedy.
‘It was dogs rampaging through the park, killing wildlife with dog tracks everywhere. It was very obvious it was dogs and very messy.’
Fred Burton, Blue Iguana Recovery Programme