A recent bulletin from Cayman Turtle Centre terrestrial exhibits curator Geddes Hislop outlined many new developments at the facility over the past few months.
In bird news, one young peahen born in late June, 2016, has joined the peafowl flock, bringing the total number of peafowl on the lagoon islands up to six (two peacocks and four peahens).
The two peacocks, “Big Blue” and “Snowflake,” having shed their display trains back in May 2016, are beginning to regrow their display tail feathers in preparation for the upcoming breeding season which takes place around March.
“Terrestrial staff still have a small collection of colorful peacock feathers from their last molt to use as giveaway souvenirs for children visiting the Aviary – the blue feathers are definitely more popular,” said Mr. Hislop.
At the Turtle Centre’s Caribbean Aviary, as reported in the Compass, this summer, the terrestrial department had its most successful white-crowned pigeon release since the program began in 2008. In November, 30 healthy captive-bred juveniles were introduced into the wild in two separate releases.
“An increase in the number of breeder [white-crowned pigeons] from five to nine breeding pairs, coupled with closely monitoring and managing the size of the Aviary flock so as not to overstress the facility’s carrying capacity, contributed to a significantly higher number of [pigeon] clutches being produced,” said Mr. Hislop.
“[White-crowned pigeons] normally raise one clutch of two chicks per season, but this year some of our breeding pairs raised two to three clutches.”
Mr. Hislop added that in 2016, for the first time, park visitors were given the opportunity to participate. For the second release of 14 birds, a draw was held to pick the participants who were given a short informative talk on the birds and the park’s release program before being handed a bird to release, in an undertaking closely supervised by Terrestrial staff.
“The initiative was so well received that it may well become the new standard for next year’s [white-crowned pigeon] releases, as opposed to the traditional ‘soft’ release method of simply opening the cage door and allowing the birds to leave on their own accord,” said Mr. Hislop.
He noted as well that the captive-bred Cayman parrot triplets hatched in mid-May 2016, are now fully weaned and independent from their parents, and are getting a lot of flight experience and exercise, playing and chasing each other around the Aviary, to the delight of guests.
The triplets are slated for release into the wild in late January or early February 2017 when they are nine to 10 months old, with the date set to be announced soon.
“The Centre will collaborate with the Department of Environment to highlight this upcoming parrot release and encourage community involvement to bring more attention to the conservation of our National Bird,” said Mr. Hislop, adding that the upcoming release will bring the total number of the Centre’s captive-bred Cayman parrots introduced into the wild to 12 since the program began in 2009.
As also reported in the Compass, in July 2016, the terrestrial department acquired two female scarlet ibis from Sea World in California, USA. Terrestrial staff are hopeful that in coming months the birds, which were already proven breeders at Sea World, will bond with the Centre’s two male birds, “Ziggy” and “Bobo,” for the 2017 breeding season in March, and produce the Centre’s first scarlet ibis chicks.
With the winter season’s shorter, cooler days, Mr. Hislop said, Smiley the crocodile’s metabolism has slowed to the point where her feedings are being held just once per week, on Wednesdays at 11:45 a.m. until further notice.
“The Friday afternoon croc enrichment activity will also be more sporadic depending on weather and Smiley’s reactiveness,” said Mr. Hislop.
“Visitors are welcome to watch the interaction if they happen to be in the right place at the right time.”
The facility’s turtle operations reported some impressive milestones, with 2016’s first nest containing 87 eggs laid on March 28. By the end of June 2016, a total of 61 different females had laid approximately 14,000 eggs in 175 nests.
“The largest clutch to date was 130 eggs in one nest,” said Mr. Hislop.
“Late June/July was the height of the laying season, with as many as 20 females coming up to lay in a single night. By the end of the season, at the end of October 2016, a total of 71 different female breeders had laid 24,982 eggs in 298 nests. The largest clutch for the season was 162 eggs in one nest, and the largest number of nests by a single female for this season was eight.”
Mr. Hislop noted that in early November 2016, 10 volunteers from PwC assisted the Marine team with the biannual lagoon turtle assessment. The group caught, examined, weighed, measured and marked the 27 two-year old turtles in the Turtle lagoon.
“The turtles are progressing well and weigh an average of 45 pounds each, having gained an average of 15 pounds since the last assessment in May 2016,” said Mr. Hislop.
In addition, 36 headstarted juvenile turtles were introduced into the wild in December.
“Following this, the next upcoming event will be the annual Breeding Pond Assessment to take place in January 2017, a good way for visitors to see the Centre’s turtle husbandry and research in action,” said Mr. Hislop.
“[Within our aquatic population], Houdini the Great Barracuda and Maca the Nurse Shark, recent additions to the park’s Predator Reef display, have settled in well and add to the excitement of the weekday shark feeding display,” said Mr. Hislop.
“As well, new enrichment activities are being introduced for our nurse sharks in the Predator Reef.”
Mr. Hislop noted new aquarist trainee Shona McGill has recently joined the Centre’s Marine team.
“She will be going through her on-the job training and orientation for the next few months, learning the ropes on fish and lagoon turtle feeding, fish capture and quarantine procedures, shark feeding, record-keeping and other department duties.”
Fish stocks replenished
Mr. Hislop also said the Centre’s Marine department continues its ongoing replenishment of the aging fish stocks in the turtle lagoon, and that between July and November 2016, approximately 300 marine fish underwent quarantine protocols and were released into the turtle lagoon and predator reef.
“Having an additional member of staff, the department now has more manpower to catch and process more fish to put through the quarantine process,” said Mr. Hislop.
“For the first time in three years, the marine department has a fully stocked quarantine with new fish undergoing quarantine protocols to be released into the Turtle Lagoon.”
As part of the Turtle Centre education program, Mr. Hislop said, the first school visit for the new term took place at the end of September, and by the end of November, 229 students and teachers had visited the park on educational tours.
“It is anticipated that school visitations will increase in the New Year as they get deeper into the school curriculum,” said Mr. Hislop.
Art mural design
The winning design for this term’s annual Turtle Hatchery high school art mural design was submitted by Grace Christian Academy.
The design will be painted on a large canvas by the school art class for display in front of the Turtle Hatchery window while the Hatchery is closed for the non-nesting season from November to March.
“This will be the fourth annual turtle-themed hatchery mural created under this collaborative project between the Centre and local high schools,” said Mr. Hislop.
“Art teachers use the mural as an art project to teach and assess their students, while the students and school have an opportunity to display their work to our hundreds of park visitors to view and enjoy.”