A number of Grand Cayman’s beloved blue iguanas apparently are being infected by unusual and potentially lethal bacteria. Some of them have died.
Not only were we not invited to the funeral, we didn’t even know they were sick.
For two years, we now know, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and local veterinarians have been identifying and treating infected animals. So why is the public only learning about it now?
The endemic “blues” have significant cultural and environmental importance to the Cayman Islands. Only two decades ago, Grand Cayman’s largest native land animal was on the brink of extinction. Even now, after years of conservation, protection and intervention efforts, there are believed to be perhaps three or four dozen free-roaming blue iguanas, and fewer than 200 in captivity at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.
So why is Cayman’s human population only learning of an existential threat to the blue iguanas after a Compass reporter unearthed a buried news release written by a foreign interest group and never disseminated to the broader Cayman public?
The July 7 news release from the California-based International Reptile Conservation Foundation was alarmingly titled: “Helicobacter Disease Threatens The Existence of the Blue Iguanas.” Equally alarming is that The National Trust for the Cayman Islands did not let the public know about this biological hazard to our native blues.
According to the press release, Blue Iguana Recovery Programme staff found a lethargic wild blue iguana at the park in May 2015. The animal was treated by Dr. Ioana Popescu at Island Veterinary Services, but died of blood poisoning the same day. A week later, a second blue iguana became sick with a bacterial infection, was treated and made a full recovery.
Over the next two years, approximately 15 more wild and captive blue iguanas at the Botanic Park took ill. Some died. Blood and fecal samples from approximately half of these animals tested positive for a novel strain of Helicobacter.
That is a significant number for such a small population. The public is right to be concerned – and informed – about this latest threat to Cayman’s blue iguanas.
Researchers believe that invasive green iguanas may be responsible for spreading the pathogen in question. The California foundation is helping raise funds to help test that theory and, hopefully, develop a plan to treat infected blue iguanas and prevent future illnesses and deaths.
Earlier this week the National Trust for the Cayman Islands finally did sound the alarm – but only after the Compass reporter discovered the “un-released” news release and contacted the group with questions. Instead of providing answers over the phone, by email or person-to-person, the Trust proceeded to distribute the news release to all local media and schedule a press conference for Friday on the topic.
Sorry, the news waits for no spokesman, and no press conference. We published the story on the front page of today’s Compass. We’ll dispatch a reporter to Friday’s Q&A session, and if anything interesting arises from it, we’ll write about it for Monday’s newspaper. (First question: Why did it take the Trust so long to let people know the blues are in trouble?)
There is a clear public interest in protecting blue iguanas. Significant time and community resources have been invested in ensuring a future for Cayman’s blues.
In order to build public trust, the National Trust ought to be more forthcoming with the public. We, or the public, can’t help, if we don’t know a problem exists.