Fieldwork for iguana survey wraps up

Things appear to be looking up for Cayman’s wild blue iguana population.

The National Trust's enviromental programs manager Paul Watler prepares to release a young blue iguana into the wild in February 2016. - PHOTO: Stephen Barten
The National Trust’s enviromental programs manager Paul Watler prepares to release a young blue iguana into the wild in February 2016. – PHOTO: Stephen Barten

A recently concluded survey of the wild blue iguanas in the Colliers wilderness reserve in East End has researchers optimistic that the population is on track to reach the Blue Iguana Recovery Program’s goal of 1,000 wild blue iguanas.

The Recovery Program’s efforts to bring back Cayman’s distinctive iguanas from the brink of extinction includes a breeding program and release of iguanas into the wild in an attempt to re-establish a self-sustaining population.

Blue iguanas are currently classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Assessments carried out in 1996 and 2004 by the IUCN led to blue iguanas being classified as critically endangered and placed on the organization’s Red List.

“1,000 blue iguanas in the wild is the program’s goal, as that is the number which distinguishes the population from being termed critically endangered as opposed to being endangered,” said the National Trust’s environmental programs officer Paul Watler.

“So, for example 900 is considered critically endangered, and 1,200 is endangered.”

The survey fieldwork was conducted by a six-person team over two weeks, and wrapped up on March 12, with the data collected being analyzed by the Department of Environment.

Staff, including Mr. Watler from the National Trust, the Department of Environment, and two volunteers painstakingly collected data on the reptiles in East End’s wild interior.

“We were doing distance sampling using line transects,” said Mr. Watler, who explained that a team of two would slowly and quietly make their way along a specified transect or route, scanning the surroundings for the sounds of iguanas or sighting them visually.

“If an iguana is detected, the distance of the iguana to the transect is measured, and the iguana’s characteristics, like its activity and estimated age, are taken down,” he said.

Once the data is collected, the numbers are able to offer up a density estimate, giving researchers an idea of how many iguanas are in the area.

Mr. Watler noted that surveys on the iguana populations are done each year, alternating between East End’s Colliers and Salina reserves.

“This year, the weather conditions were relatively good, though we did encounter some days with high wind, which made it tough to hear the iguanas, with the trees rustling quite a bit,” he said, adding that the survey’s initial findings were encouraging.

“The data still needs to be properly analyzed at the Department of Environment, though.”

Mr. Watler said, overall, the program’s outlook is encouraging.

“Generally, we are very excited about how well the protected areas are working out in terms of serving as habitat for the iguanas, and how well the breeding program is doing. We will still be continuing with the breeding and doing releases, so all is business as usual at the recovery program.”


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