Cayman Brac’s Sister Islands Rock Iguanas are being counted and initial results seem encouraging, with 50 iguanas being identified in the first two weeks of the project.
The Big Brac Iguana Count is a joint project between the Department of Environment, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and international volunteers.
A cousin to Grand Cayman’s famous Blue iguana, the Sister Islands Rock Iguana is only found on subspecies level in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Although information has been gathered about the Rock Iguana population in Little Cayman in the past, much less is known about the population in Cayman Brac. That population had been exposed to greater levels of development for longer than the population on Little Cayman, which made it vital for the Trust to gain more information on them.
“The Sister Islands as part of Cayman are not immune top development pressure so habitat loss and habitat fragmentation is taking its toll on our iguanas,” said Paul Watler, environmental projects manager with the National Trust.
According to Mat Cottam of the Department of Environment, the survey uses the same techniques as the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.
“The iguanas are not harmed by the tagging process, and once they have been marked and measured they will be released back in the same place they were caught,” Mr. Cottam said.
Mr. Watler said the iguanas are also given a health check, with blood samples collected for future DNA analysis.
The information gathered will be of vital importance to securing the future of the iguana population in Cayman Brac.
“At the end of the survey we hope to have a better understanding of these unique animals – their numbers and their distribution. This information will help better inform conservation efforts aimed at ensuring a healthy population of Brac Iguanas in future years,” Mr. Cottam said.
It is hoped by acting early, the iguana population in Cayman Brac will never reach levels where similar intervention is required as was necessary in the case of the Blue Iguana.
“Once we can take a look at the numbers we can figure out what we can do from here, whether it’s a case that we can leave them where they are, whether we have to try to purchase suitable habitat and move them. We really don’t want too much of an active hand like we have done with the Blue Iguanas,” Mr. Watler said.
However, he said that unless the National Conservation Law or similar legislation is enacted, protecting the iguanas and their habitat will remain challenging.
Part of the project is to see to it that volunteers in Cayman Brac are also equipped to continue the work the project has been doing, so that previously untagged iguanas may be added to the database as they are encountered.
Mr. Watler said the success of the count would not have been possible without volunteers, especially Bonnie Edwards who in addition to helping to organise the count also manages the Brac Iguana Hotline, where callers may let volunteers know where they have seen iguanas.
The project is funded by the International Reptile Conservation Foundation in partnership with the Department of Environment.
For more information about the project, call
Ms Edwards on the Iguana Hotline at 917-7744, or Mat Cottam at the Department of Environment at 949-8469.