Little Cayman’s battle against green iguanas making progress

From left, Xiomara Lopez, Robert Welcome, Mike Vallee, Ed Houlcroft and Kirk Cunningham, and in back, Jermaine Spaulding, with the two iguanas that hitched a ride in a container shipped from Grand Cayman. - Photo: Lara Pullan
From left, Xiomara Lopez, Robert Welcome, Mike Vallee, Ed Houlcroft and Kirk Cunningham, and in back, Jermaine Spaulding, with the two iguanas that hitched a ride in a container shipped from Grand Cayman. – Photo: Lara Pullan

Multiple successes are being racked up in Little Cayman by Green Iguana B’Gonna.

The jauntily named program, dubbed GIBG for short, is helping to tackle a serious problem: the spread of the green iguana on the small island.

The project of the Little Cayman district National Trust is aimed at preventing the animals from proliferating in Little Cayman, where, if they are able to gain a toehold and their numbers become significant, they could pose a real threat to local wildlife.

Thanks to the efforts of project coordinators Mike Vallee and Ed Houlcroft, several recent captures show that the animals are making their way to the island.

A 3-foot sub-adult was caught on Wednesday, March 16, after being spotted that same afternoon. A guest at Pirates Point had a close encounter at the edge of the resort’s pool with the iguana and took a photo of it. A short search later in the afternoon picked up tracks, but no sighting.

Soon after dark the Green Iguana B’Gonna team went hunting for the iguana, accompanied by volunteers Emily Darani and Seth Ridewood as extra sets of eyes. The green iguana was subsequently spotted up a tree by Mr. Ridewood.

Mr. Houlcroft said that the iguana, probably 3 years old and in poor condition, would still have been able to breed, so posed a real danger to Little Cayman.

“[It was] a great day for GIBG as it was volunteer help and the use of GIBG-funded torches, using money awarded from an EU grant initiative called BEST, that resulted in the capture,” said Mr. Houlcroft.

Set up officially one year ago, GIBG has been monitoring sightings, searching for green iguanas and spreading the word in an effort to control Little Cayman’s green iguana problem. GIBG also acts as an early warning system as the population starts to increase on the island.

The GIBG team of Mr. Vallee and Mr. Houlcroft hope that their volunteer efforts in catching and humanely dispatching the animals will influence the development of an eradication program, and make Little Cayman the first island to remove green iguanas as a pest species from its shores.

The program has had a few more successes, including a pair of iguanas caught on April 9.

“This time, they were found in a container being unloaded on Little, having been shipped from Grand Cayman,” said Mr. Houlcroft.

The team of Xiomara Lopez, Robert Welcome, Jermaine Spaulding and Kirk Cunningham called in the sighting immediately while in the middle of unloading a container. They managed to capture the iguanas in the container as the GIBG team headed down.

“[This was] another great achievement as the local community spotted, called in and captured the green iguanas before the threat even set foot on Little Cayman,” said Mr. Houlcroft.

“After many speculations of how these animals have arrived to the island, this is the first documentation of green iguanas arriving inside a container, as opposed to traveling on the outside.”

Mr. Houlcroft said that a very big coup was also made just a few days ago.

“A 3.5-foot male that has been seen on multiple occasions over the last eight months, yet evaded many searches, is now out of the game,” said Mr. Houlcroft, noting the lizard was spotted by Marc Pothier on Thursday, April 14, near Salt Rock Dock. The iguana was noosed by Mr. Vallee within minutes of the call being received.

“The speed of the call after the sighting for this, and the other two captures, shows how important an early response by those coming across a green iguana is,” said Mr. Houlcroft.

“Part of GIBG’s insistence is that people try and call in the sighting as soon as possible, as this maximizes the chance of capture.”

Mr. Houlcroft said green iguana sightings have increased on the island, with more in the last four months than in all of 2015. Reports are increasing as public awareness rises, and the captures were of special significance for the program’s two coordinators because of the community’s input and immediate efforts.

They ask anyone visiting Little Cayman to stay vigilant on their travels and to call Pirates Point Resort or Little Cayman Beach Resort the same day with an exact location, size and, if possible, photo, in the event that a green is seen.