A population assessment of Cayman’s blue iguanas is being carried out to determine the current number of the endangered lizards in the wild.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Programme has set a target of 1,000 iguanas in the wild. The count will go on until mid-March.

Meanwhile, the breeding facility is continuing to release blue iguanas into the wild.

The iguanas are typically released in July and August. The most recent blue iguana releases took place in late February because of incomplete releases in July of last year.

On Feb. 19 and 22, a total of 15 blue iguanas were released by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, and 34 remain to be released based on the current schedule.

Initiated in 1990, the program seeks to protect the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana and its habitat. Blue Iguanas are classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and are on the organization’s Red List. These IUCN assessments were carried out in 1996 and 2004.

A baby Blue Iguana is inspected before being released in the wild. PHOTO: Stephen Barten
A baby Blue Iguana is inspected before being released in the wild. PHOTO: Stephen Barten

According to the recovery program, the unmanaged wild population of the animals was considered to be “functionally extinct” in 2005. But with the help of the recovery efforts, the number of blue iguanas in the wild reached about 750 by April 2013.

The recovery program was set up by the National Trust of the Cayman Islands in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the International Reptile Conservation Foundation and Cayman’s Department of Environment.

At the National Trust’s breeding facility at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in North Side, two full-time wardens provide care for around 150 blue iguanas.

Accounting for hatchings and releases, this number can fluctuate throughout the year.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Programme functions as both a captive breeding facility and as a wild release platform, according to Paul Watler, the Environmental Programmes Manager at the National Trust.

“Breeding pairs are specifically matched so that offspring will benefit from optimal genetic expression,” said Mr. Watler.

“Within the facility, we have not seen a marked increase in the amount of pairs used for breeding, as we have been focused on ensuring each key individual’s genetics are passed on to future generations of blue iguanas.”

Despite their burgeoning numbers, the iguanas continue to face threats from traffic, habitat change and stray animals, like dogs.

Last year, within a month of each other, two popular iguanas at the park, RW and Inky, were killed in dog attacks inside the park boundaries.

Aiming to prevent a repeat of the attacks, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme is requesting donations to help pay for building a fence around the Botanic Park’s perimeter.

For more information about the program, contact the National Trust for the Cayman Islands at 749-1121, [email protected] or visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky.