Blues have more room to roam

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    Endangered Blue Iguanas now have 23 new acres of land to call their home in the Salina Reserve. 

    Thanks to the acquisition of land by the Cayman Islands National Trust, an extra 100 iguanas may be released into the site, according to Blue Iguana Recovery Programme Director Fred Burton. 

    “Before the recent land purchase, we had been working on a maximum capacity of 400 iguanas,” Mr. Burton said. “With the new land we should be able to increase that.  

    “The 20 acres we bought are ‘worth’ 40 acres because they link the habitat where the iguanas are now, to more habitat that was isolated until we bought the new piece,” he said. “It is hard to put an exact figure on it yet, but it looks like this will mean we can take the Salina population up to at least 500 iguanas now.” 

    The National Trust purchased the land last month for $318,000. Two thirds of the purchase price was provided from a more than 700,000 euro (CI$850,000) grant from the European Union and one third from the National Trust through a donation from Maples Finance, said the Trust’s chair, Carla Reid.  

    The EU grant for sustainable tourism projects is shared with the Cayman Islands, 
Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands. 

    Paul Watler, manager of environmental programmes at the National Trust, said since the land had not been fenced off prior to the purchase, it was likely the released iguanas had already wandered onto the site, but by buying the land, there was no longer a concern it might eventually be developed. 

    It also makes access to the rest of the site easier, he said. The Blue Iguana Recovery Programme has been releasing iguanas into the original 623-acre reserve since 2004. 

    As well as the Salina Reserve, beginning last year, the programme also releases the reptiles into a 190-acre protected site in East End called Colliers Wilderness Reserve, which it leases from the government. That site will eventually be open to the public. 

    According to Mr. Burton, 357 blue iguanas have been released into the Salinas, although five have died after wandering onto roads or from dog attacks. At the East End site, 241 iguanas have been released, two of which roamed out and were recaptured. 

    With the addition of the new land, he said the programme was in “good shape to reach our target of 1,000 in the next few years”. Mr. Burton said he estimated about 50 blue iguanas were living in and around the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.  

    “This is the smallest and least viable group – we have lost a lot of the free roamers in the park to dogs, road kills, etc., and the area is probably much too small to support a genetically viable population in the long term,” he said. 

    He added, “The counts can’t be exact. We know we have had some successful breeding in all three areas and we doubtless have lost some we don’t know about, so we reckon the standing count for blue iguanas in the wild, is now around the 650 mark.” 

    Once there is evidence the Blue Iguana population can maintain itself by natural breeding in the wild, the captive breeding programme will eventually be closed. 

    “Long term, we will need to manage all the protected areas with iguanas, actively, to ensure the problems that caused the iguanas to go almost extinct in the first place, are kept under control,” Mr. Burton said. “This means the work will require long-term sustainable funding for a couple of field staff, which we hope to generate by future nature tourism activity in the Colliers Wilderness Reserve.” 

    The Blue Iguana is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.  

    A survey in 2002 showed there were between 10 and 25 blue iguanas in the wild and by 2005, the unmanaged wild population was considered to be functionally extinct. Since then, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme has pulled the species back from extinction. 

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    One of the captive bred Blue Iguanas at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.
    PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY
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    5 COMMENTS

    1. I hate to say this, because I love animals, but the Green Iguanas are becoming an utter nuisance. Messing on peoples cars, raiding fruits trees, eating away young plants that have not grown to maturity, messing on peoples lawns… et cetera… it is no joke. The island is being overrun by them.

      Years ago, I heard one guy released 200 Green iguanas in West Bay about beautifying Cayman. This was after Ivan… from then on they grew so rapidly in population. I would like to say to that guy – thank you alot.. you have introduced a species that is invading this island and is becoming more and more a pest to farmers here on the island.

      One would have thought, seeing that he was a scientist, that he would have at least genetically altered these lizards so that they could lay one egg at a time. But I guess there was no thought of them producing so rapidly in large numbers.

      I was taking a walk through George Town one day and on one’s persons tree alone, you had 9 of these lizards in the tree!

      For those who can’t tell the difference between a Green Iguana and a Blue Iguana. A Green Iguana has black stripes on it tail, whereas a Blue Iguana looks more blue and thick, and does not have stripes on its tail. It is the Blue that is protected and native to these islands.

      I don’t believe in killing these creatures to control their population. But something has to be done. Some alternatives for farmers and people have to introduced when these lizards become a pest.

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    2. @ BT – These green iguanas have already invaded South Florida and Caribbean Islands, such Anguilla. They were mysteriously washed up on Anguillas shore in the 1990s, and in two years time, Anguillas agriculture has been effected negatively because of it. Anguilla can never go Independent and survive if Anguilla wanted to. The green iguana have no predators to eat them and control them -except certain birds like the eagle, hawk, owl, and large cats and foxes. But that is just about it. A female green iguana can lay about 30 to 60 eggs. I can not see how someone who is educated about wildlife, would release 200 of invasive species on this island. They certainly had no good intentions for these islands if they knew what these iguanas were capable of.

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    3. I wish all the Iguanas were there! Just returned from a visit and was replused that they would come out of the bushes…yes, fun to see, but the pool was cleaned every day and then the Iguanas would come out and poop around the pool. Why are there so many iguanas on the Island. I’ve been coming a long time to Cayman and it’s just been the last several years that you see them. Is it because you have cleared off so much land and they have no where to go?

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    4. @Say: The Green Iguanas you are seeing are not indigenous to the Cayman Islands. (We do have some on Little Cayman, but a different species entirely). The ones that are infesting Cayman are from Central America, brought here as pets or food. Their numbers have exploded in the wild because we have no natural predators here (slow breeding controls our indigenous iguanas).

      We can’t move the Green ones to the reserves because they would quickly outbreed our native ones and eat their eggs (there’s probably some social commentary in there).

      At any rate, the invasive species needs to be wiped out and soon. They were confined mostly to West Bay and West Bay Road at first but now they’re everywhere. They need to go.

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