Red stakes mark iguana deaths on Little Cayman

Meredith Guderian and Tanja Laaser place a red marker at the site where a Sister Islands rock iguana was killed earlier this year. - Photo: DoE

Tanja Laaser says people in Little Cayman were surprised when more than two dozen red stakes marking the spots where rock iguanas had been killed on the roads there appeared in April.

“They were very shocked,” Laaser said. “We got so much feedback from the community saying they were not aware it was so many.”

And, she points out, it did not even represent a year’s worth of fatalities.

Laaser, an intern with the Department of Environment, began keeping detailed counts of indigenous rock iguanas killed on Little Cayman roads in 2018. That year, there were 39. So far this year, she said, there have been 28. At that pace, she expects the 2019 total to be higher than last year.

“The road fatalities have increased, probably, over the years,” Laaser said.

She suspects the totals she’s getting do not tell the whole story. She relies on people reporting the road kills. But she does not think every iguana hit by a car is left in the road where it can be seen.

“Including the ones thrown into the bush,” she said, “it would probably double [the numbers].”

The Sister Islands rock iguana is a protected species found only on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. It is a subspecies of the Cuban rock iguana. A 2014 survey estimated there were between 2,700 and 4,200 of the iguanas on Little Cayman.

“If we do not protect them here,” Laaser said, “they could be gone. The ecosystem would collapse if they were to disappear. It’s very important that we preserve them.”

She said speeding, carelessness, impatience and misunderstanding are the primary reasons the iguanas get hit on the roads.

“Speeding is a problem here,” she said.

Sometimes avoiding an iguana may not just require slowing down, but actually having to stop to allow the slow moving lizards time to waddle away.

“They lay and sunbask in the road,” Laaser said. “Sometimes people don’t have the patience for them to move. I think everyone can take that minute. What is one minute of your time to save a life?”

In Grand Cayman, where invasive green iguanas have overpopulated the island, a dead iguana in the road is seen by some as a good thing. In fact, a DoE programme has promoted the culling of iguanas over the past year. More than 800,000 of the animals have been killed and turned in at the island’s landfill.

There are green iguanas in Little Cayman as well. But so far, Laaser said, their numbers are small. Any iguana seen on the roads there is almost certain to be a rock iguana.

While there may be a few people who are unconcerned about the iguanas, Laaser said most of the community is behind protecting the animals.

“We work very closely with the community and the National Trust,” she said. “We rely on the community. The community cares about the iguanas. Sometimes I get them [calling] in tears, telling me they found another dead iguana.”

She’s hoping the markers will help reduce those calls.

Laaser said since DoE conservation officer Mike Guderian took the initiative to put up the markers in April, no more have gone up.

“We’re trying to get more stakes,” she said, in order to keep a running record, all the while hoping she won’t have to pound too many more into the ground.

To report on iguanas in Little Cayman, call the DoE hotline on 925‑7625.

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