A female Blue Iguana was killed by two wild dogs at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park last week.
The 14-year-old endemic reptile, named Green Orange, was projected to give birth to more than 300 hatchlings throughout her lifespan.
“She is one of the ones we released in the wild in the Botanic Park during the time that we were experimenting how well they did …. She is one of the ones that in 2003 we saw her first nest being laid in Botanic Park, and she had been breeding wild and free in Botanic Park ever since, ” said Fred Burton, director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.
The recovery program works to repopulate the species, which was on the brink of extinction, with only about a dozen surviving from the original wild population, in 2002.
According to Mr. Burton, gardeners working at the Botanic Park spotted two dogs without collars attacking the reptile by the lake during the early morning of Oct. 23.
“[They] found her to be bitten with chest injuries, which is always a very bad sign. Usually, when they get their lungs punctured by an animal like that, it is terminal,” said Mr. Burton.
Green Orange was sent to a veterinary clinic where she was given an ultrasound and placed in a cage under an ambient temperature to see if she would recover from the shock, but she died the next morning, said Mr. Burton.
Mr. Burton said staff at the park called the Department of Agriculture following the event, as the Animals Law outlines that dogs roaming outside of home premises are required to be kept on a leash. But he says the law is rarely enforced by animal control officers.
“Dogs that normally live in people’s yards get excitable and get into small packs and roam way off into protected areas. We’ve seen packs go into the Colliers Wilderness Reserve, and lost Blue Iguanas to them. The Botanic Park is also open to this type of thing as it has happened before,” said Mr. Burton. “We need the leash law to be properly enforced.”
He said if officers did not begin enforcing the law, Botanic Park officials would need to consider other options to protect the endemic species, like fencing the entire Botanic Park, which would be costly, or placing the park’s wild Blue Iguana population of 30 back into captivity.
He said the loss of one female reptile in such a small population group was particularly devastating.
“It is actually terribly damaging in that sense, if you think about the long-lived female iguana, she was laying 12 eggs every year, she would be reproductive for 30 years, so … that is 360 iguanas that she could give birth to, and she is gone now.
“That is potential reproduction on a fairly large scale that has been wiped out. If that happened five or six times a year, the population would [be gone].”
At the moment, the Botanic Park keeps 156 Blue Iguanas in captivity, out of which 100 youngsters are slated to be released, the remaining Blues will be kept for genetic insurance, said Mr. Burton.
He said the wild population at Botanic Park is the most vulnerable of the three wildlife reserves on island, including the Salina Reserve and Colliers Wilderness Reserve, due to a number of factors.
“It is a really small population, which makes it a peculiar situation. It is the kind of size of population where just from random occurrences, you will get inbreeding, where brothers and sisters will mate with each other, and we have to manage that type of situation.”
He said the death rate of iguanas at the Botanic Park averages about one per year due to traffic or other predators.
As long as housing developments continue to go up near North Side Road, so will the attacks, he said.
“The more private homes [are] adjacent the park, the more there is going to be dogs, and cats who eat the baby iguanas. If that trend continues, then the population that is free in the park would become unsustainable. It can’t take much more pressure like this,” he said.
He believes the incident is just a “warning of things potentially to come,” and that one of the main attractions of the park is that tourists could see Blue Iguanas on the trails.
“It would be good if we can solve this one so that the park can still be a place where people can see the [Blue] Iguanas on the trails.”
However, he said, staff can’t take it for granted that the Blue Iguanas will be there forever if they “can’t protect the site from dogs and cats.”
He questioned whether the Botanic Park should be expected to pay such an “immense expense” to protect the endemic species, “when it is other people’s disinclination to manage their pets” that is causing the problem.
The Blue Iguana Recovery program has released more than 900 Blue Iguanas into the wild over the years, according to Mr. Burton. He said research officers, who are carrying out population surveys this year, are starting to see young Blues becoming established in both the Colliers Reserve and in the Salina Reserve.