The first wild blue iguana hatchling of 2019 was spotted by researchers in Grand Cayman on Saturday.
The young lizard, thought to be around a week old, was located by Blue Iguana Recovery Program staff during routine surveillance of habitat areas, said operations manager Luke Harding.
“When searching in a well-known nesting area, we were lucky enough to find one of the babies,” Harding said, adding that there are likely other hatchlings in the wild that researchers have not detected.
The programme surveys population numbers once a year, and for the rest of the year, researchers observe the population to watch out for habitat destruction and other threats, he explained.
Most of the island’s young blue iguanas are the result of captive breeding efforts, he added, which have helped save the endemic lizard from the threat of extinction.
“This species was on the brink of extinction in the early 2000s,” Harding said. “It feels so surreal and so exciting to know the population is still breeding.… In conservation terms, we are still in early stages to achieve our goal of a sustainable population.”
The year’s first group of captive-bred iguana hatchlings were also reported by the programme in late June. Harding said all seven hatchlings are feeding and doing well.
An additional 15 eggs remain in the incubator, he said, but it is unlikely all of them are fertile. Of the eggs that are, Harding expected them to hatch in late July or early August.
The captive-bred hatchlings will remain in the care of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program for around three years before they are released into the wild.
At that point, their main threat to survival, after their only natural predator, the racer snake, will be cats and dogs. Harding encouraged responsible pet ownership to avoid unnecessary blue iguana deaths.
“One cat or dog can have a really big impact on these animals,” he said.
Otherwise, Harding said there is no reason a high percentage of these young lizards should not survive.
“This [wild] baby is an example and proof that if we try hard and work hard, this species can survive in Cayman and reach past numbers.”