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 user 2005-05-27 at 12:27:00 pm Views: 67
  • #9666
    SOS call for ancient blue iguana

    Cayman Islands

    Cayman Island scientists are calling for assistance to pull a
    unique species of blue iguana back from the brink.

    The animal has a long history: DNA evidence suggests it has been around for
    the past three million years.

    However, the mere 25 of them left on Grand Cayman seemed recently to face a
    dismal future.

    “Time is obviously not on the side of this remarkable creature,” said Fred
    Burton, director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme (BIRP).

    The captive breeding programme is going from
    strength to strength

    Fred Burton, BIRP
    “But there are no insurmountable biological, political or social
    barriers to the re-establishment of a viable wild population.

    “Saving the blue iguana really boils down to the human financial resources we
    can direct to the task.”

    On the brink

    The BIRP is significant in the study of how a species can be brought back
    from the brink of extinction.

    With a heady mixture of science, iguana ingenuity, understanding of iguana
    psychology, and local and international support and funding – scientists believe
    they may just be able to bring the iguanas back to a critical mass required to
    sustain a population.

    The blue iguana’s problems stem from humans, though for the most part the
    damage to the iguanas has been quite unintended.

    The first European settlers arrived nearly 300 years ago, and the pets that
    they brought with them, such as dogs and cats have continued to push the iguanas
    back from the coast and into less hospitable inland areas. The displacement and
    land-use change has accelerated with a major human population boom in the last

    The blue iguanas, named because of their skin which turns slowly from slate
    grey to blue throughout the day as the sun shines, were once shot and eaten by
    people and are still attacked by pets.


    Scientific name: Cyclura lewisi
    Related to iguanas found on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, but
    quite distinct
    Never stops growing, but growth rate slows with age
    Biggest adults believed to be up to 1.4m nose to tail
    Endemic to Grand Cayman, i.e. found nowhere else
    Blue colour only expressed in the presence of other iguanas

    The iguanas do not instinctively recognise dogs and cats as lethal
    predators and the first chance to learn often ends in tragedy.

    The BIRP hatches and rears blue iguanas for two years, so sparing them the
    severe mortality that would usually decimate a year’s hatch.

    The pioneer blue iguanas are then released back into the wild and
    radio-tracked as they mature and start breeding.

    These studies are providing vital information for the development and
    management of a protected area.

    The iguanas have strong personalities and are superbly adapted to their
    natural environment and they are learning to cope with today’s world in
    different ways.

    As fast learners, the iguanas have expanded their natural diet of some 50 or
    so native plant species, to over 130 by discovering new edible plants brought to
    the islands by horticulturalists and landscapers.

    They can also adapt to a man-made environment (if there are no dogs or cats);
    they are as happy sleeping under a wooden shed as in a natural rock hole.

    Playing cupid

    Hope also lies with the design by BIRP workers of honeymoon suites for the
    iguanas breeding in captivity which include specially constructed retreats and a
    carefully prepared diet of fruits, flowers and assorted greenery.

    “Iguanas are fairly basic in this area. Good food, plenty of
    sunshine and a nice place to nest and hang out and they will pretty much get on
    with it,” said Dr Matthew Cottam, special projects officer at the Cayman Islands
    Department of the Environment, who works with the BIRP.

    But is it too late for the iguanas? Can they be saved?

    “The captive breeding programme is going from strength to strength,” said
    Fred Burton. “Our monitored releases are working brilliantly so far.

    “If we can protect enough habitat and maintain it free of unnatural
    predators, there is every reason to hope we can give the blue iguanas their
    future back.

    “This is one species we can save.”