Monday, September 01, 2008

Return of the Blue Dragon

I want to start our return/reintroduction/rewilding re-return week with a positive fable, a success story if you will. I've posted before about the Caribbean's Cyclura genus iguanas and the dangers they face. They also offer us examples of conservation successes and today I'm going to introduce you to another member of the genus, Cyclura lewisi. Cyclura lewisi is Grand Cayman's Blue iguana - it is endemic to Grand Cayman - the two other islands in the group have their own Cyclura, a subspecies of Cuba's Cyclura nubilis. C. lewisi gets up to five feet long and as its name would suggest can be a pretty bright blue.


Tagged adult C. lewisi

In 1995 there were only 150 of Cayman's Blue Iguanas alive in the wild. This is not a good position for a lizard species to be in. Happily though the local community was not about to give up on its "blue dragons" and a captive breeding program was begun. After a lot of hard work and research the captive population began to produce eggs - complicated analysis was used to ensure as many animals as possible contributed their genes to the next generation. Almost every iguana sports a pit tag on the back of its neck showing a variety of colours so animals can easily be identified at any time.


Of course merely breeding lots of iguanas in captivity was only half the battle. It became necesssary to find suitable habitat to put them in. Releases started in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, a 65-acre park mixing natural habitats and cultivated gardens. Since 1996 small numbers of Blue Iguanas have been released annually into QE2 Botanic Park and breeding has taken place there since 1999 with the population starting to expand outside the Park itself.

With the Botanic Park population doing well, the Salina Reserve, a 625-acre nature reserve in Eastern Grand Cayman which is owned and protected by the Cayman National Trust and releases continue there.


Juvenile C. lewisi - Cambridge boys through and through.

In order for the blue dragons to be safe as a species a wild population of at least 1,000 is necessary. The iguanas are well on their way to reaching this goal and with over a hundred eggs already this year and high hopes of double clutching females progress continues. To continue to do really well though it is hoped a second reserve can be purchased with suitable habitat for a third wild population. I'll share a little more about these awesome animals soon but to learn more about the Blue Iguana Recovery Program and how you can assist now visit here.

I visited the botanic park in June and recommend it to anyone visiting Cayman - we saw about 25 of these wonderful animals together with an array of other interesting animals and plants.

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