At the newly renamed Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter, some new arrivals are turning heads.

“We have had an unusual occurrence at the aviary, [with] what appears to be a pair of leucistic juvenile white-crowned pigeons hatched by one of our breeding pairs a few months ago,” said the center’s terrestrial exhibits curator, Geddes Hislop. The term leucistic refers to leucism, a condition where a partial loss of pigmentation in an animal results in white, pale or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes.

Mr. Hislop said that at first the terrestrial staff thought the chicks were just late in moulting their downy feathers.

“But then after observing the birds for over a week with no significant change in plumage, we took a closer look and realized the birds actually had white body plumage,” he said.

“A quick search online so far has turned up no records of white plumage occurring in white-crowned pigeons, but a more intensive search may turn up something. Either way, this is a rare event for this species.”

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Mr. Hislop said the two leucistic juveniles were meant to be part of this year’s release flock of white-crowned pigeons under the aviary’s captive breeding program, but will instead be kept on display at the aviary.

In another development, it appears there is now a new barracuda “in charge” at the Turtle Centre’s Predator Reef exhibit.

Usual plumage of a white-crowned pigeon.
Usual plumage of a white-crowned pigeon.

Mr. Hislop said the center’s marine department acquired two new barracudas in late June.

“These two young predatory fish were to replace the ageing iconic 4.5-foot-long great barracuda on display in the Predator Reef exhibit affectionately known as ‘Houdini,’ who had been in the exhibit since approximately 2008, which is a very long life for that species of fish,” said Mr. Hislop.

Following protocol, the new fish were quarantined for a month before being introduced to the park’s 300,000-gallon saltwater Predator Reef exhibit. During that time, they were trained to take thawed fish on signal from the aquarists in charge of the marine exhibits.

“During that quarantine period, the original Houdini finally passed away from natural causes brought on by old age,” said Mr. Hislop.

He said that the larger of the two new barracudas, which measured 2.5 feet, was christened the new Houdini by the marine staff.

“Once introduced into the relative expanse of the Predator Reef exhibit in early July, the new Houdini proved to be as bold and precocious as his former namesake and quickly became a highlight at the daily predator feeding exhibition,” said Mr. Hislop.

“He has grown rapidly to currently just over 3 feet long.”

The second, smaller barracuda, called “Walt,” at just over a foot long, was much shyer and more reclusive than his exhibit mate and was hardly noticeable during the feeding shows.

“Recently, however, marine staff have noticed that the little barracuda has gone missing. It appears that true to their nature, the matter of who is the dominant of the two barracudas was won by the larger Houdini, and he is now the undisputed king of the Predator Reef exhibit, apart from the sharks,” said Mr. Hislop.

“May he live as long as his predecessor.”

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