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.