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Rebirth of the Blues: Colorful Cayman iguanas rebounding, saving a species, work still ahead

Jun 26, 2017 10:10PM ● Published by Kevin

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park warden Alberto Estevanovich has helped in restoring Grand Cayman's blue iguana population. Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.

Gallery: News & Views: Rebirth of the Blues - July/August 2017 [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.

Encountering a blue iguana can be intimidating.

This giant, dragon-like lizard (Cyclura lewisi)―which can grow to over 5 feet in length, weigh more than 25 pounds and live as long as a human―is the largest native land animal on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman. Once roaming free in large numbers across the island, years of habitat conversion, hunting, introduction of non-native species and road kills has taken its toll.

By 2002, fewer than 20 blue iguanas were left in the wild, and by 2005 they were regarded as the most endangered iguana in the world. Today, through the efforts of a dedicated group and protected set-asides, more than 1,000 roam their Caribbean paradise.

The plight of the blue iguana was first identified by Fred Burton, on Grand Cayman in the 1970s doing mosquito research. He became curious about the large reptiles and began a program to collect eggs and start breeding the creatures using incubators. Recovery efforts today are handled by the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, operating under auspices of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. Saving the blue iguana has required a wide-ranging conservation effort that includes habitat protection, captive breeding and release, research and monitoring and education.

The Kirkland Nixon Visitors Centre. Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.

Captive breeding began in earnest in 1990 at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (QE II) on Grand Cayman’s East End. The objective was to generate and release large numbers of genetically diverse hatchlings that can survive in the wild and reproduce naturally. The original captive breeding facility was built in 1995-96. Fourteen breeding and holding pens were added, along with an enclosed area with 102 cages for second-year juveniles. Today, the facility operates at full capacity, each year releasing 40 to 60 into protected areas. Some 160 blue iguanas today reside at the QE II and an estimated 900 more prowl the nearby Salinas Reserve.

Blue iguana well-being falls mainly to two wardens: Karen Ford and 73-year-old Alberto Estevanovich. “To me it is not like a job, but rather something I enjoy doing,” says Estevanovich. “Sometimes we even go in to work on our days off.”

The two wardens measure and weigh the iguanas, perform a health screening, check their DNA, and place microchips under their skin. They also photograph their backs and necks and apply colored beads to visually identify them. Interestingly, the blue iguanas are normally gray but turn blue when they want to be noticed. “Diet is very important,” says Estevanovich, explaining that the blue iguanas are fed plants and berries endemic to the Cayman Islands, including favorites such as papaya, Ganges rose, yellow root and Indian mulberry. “Iguanas will eat all day if you let them,” he says.

Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.

Blue iguanas face a number of physical threats that include attacks by free-roaming dogs, feral and semi-domestic cats, and rats. “The dog killing situation has always been there, but lately has gotten quite bad,” Estevanovich says. “Now the dogs are hunting them for sport and recently killed 15 animals,” prompting the confinement of iguanas in protected areas, he adds.

Another threat is the exploding population of green iguanas beginning about 10 years ago. Says Karen Ford: “Blues have a very unique DNA which is totally different than that of the green or common iguana.”

“I never saw a green iguana here in the ‘70s,” adds Estevanovich. “After Hurricane Ivan ravaged the island in 2004, containers of plants and grass for replanting were brought from Central America, which probably contained a lot of green iguana hatchlings.”

Efforts to save blue iguanas have been impressive and have surpassed expectations. As a result, there is now a question about the direction of future conservation efforts. “We only planned to help save the shrinking populations,” says Estevanovich. “Now that has been largely accomplished, we are asking ourselves, ‘what should we do next?’”

For more information about Grand Cayman’s blue iguanas, go to blueiguana.ky.

Written by Glenn Ostle, a freelance photojournalist and frequent contributor to TOTI Media living in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Karen Ford and Alberto Estevanovich are wardens at the QE II Botanic Park. Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.

 

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  • Songwriter Saturdays

    03/03/2018
    01:00PM — 05:00PM

    The hit sounds and hip artists of Nashville are coming to Captiva Island — as 'Tween Waters Islan...


  • Dreams of Nature

    03/03/2018
    02:00PM

    Opening the 2018 Spring Season, is Dreams of Nature, featuring Sir Frederick Ashton’s triumphant ...


  • Wicked Dolphin Distillery Tour

    03/03/2018
    03:00PM — 04:00PM

    We will take you through the steps of how we source our ingredients, cook, ferment, distill, in o...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Norma

    03/03/2018
    07:30PM

    In Roman-occupied Gaul, a Druid priestess and a Roman official—Norma and Pollione—have fallen in ...


  • Dreams of Nature

    03/03/2018
    07:30PM

    Opening the 2018 Spring Season, is Dreams of Nature, featuring Sir Frederick Ashton’s triumphant ...


  • Improv Tonight!

    03/03/2018
    08:00PM

    Join us the first Saturday of every month for some of Southwest Florida’s best improvisational co...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/03/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • Sanibel Island Farmer's Market

    03/04/2018
    08:00AM — 01:00PM

    The Sanibel Island Farmers Market was established in 2008. It is a favorite outdoor activity for...


  • Our Top Rated Fine Art and Fine Craft Festivals are rated #2 in the Nation by sources ranking the...


  • Manon Lescaut

    03/04/2018
    01:30PM

    Love at first sight strikes the Chevalier Des Grieux and the enchanting Manon Lescaut. They flee ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/04/2018
    02:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • The environmental center is open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 8am-4pm, unless there is a p...


  • Mondays with Marie

    03/05/2018
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    Local artist, Marie Dyer, teaches a variety of workshops including landscape and silk painting fo...


  • Mondays with Marie

    03/05/2018
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    Local artist, Marie Dyer, teaches a variety of workshops including landscape and silk painting fo...


  • Kid's Cooking Classes

    03/05/2018
    02:30PM — 05:30PM

    Must be at least 8 years old Explore Farm to table cooking Regional specialties & global flavo...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    03/06/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Surfside Sunset Market

    03/06/2018
    01:00PM — 06:00PM

    The Surfside Sunset Market is located at The Shops at Surfside. From November through April, the ...


  • Wicked Dolphin Distillery Tour

    03/06/2018
    03:00PM — 04:00PM

    We will take you through the steps of how we source our ingredients, cook, ferment, distill, in o...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Norma

    03/06/2018
    07:30PM

    In Roman-occupied Gaul, a Druid priestess and a Roman official—Norma and Pollione—have fallen in ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/06/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • Rotary Club of Bonita Springs: Weekly Meeting

    03/07/2018
    07:00AM — 08:30AM

    Meetings are every Wednesday morning at the Bonita Bay Country Club. Breakfast begins at 7 a.m. a...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    03/07/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Open Mic Night at The French Press

    03/07/2018
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    Grab your instrument, warm up your voice, Wednesdays from 6:30- 9:30pm.


  • Audubon Society Speaker

    03/07/2018
    06:30PM

    CROW is honored to have the Executive Director of the Florida Audubon society as a special guest ...


  • Carmen

    03/07/2018
    07:30PM

    All-consuming, ill-fated passion rules the tumultuous love of a gypsy and a corporal. Carmen ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/07/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • Birdwatching

    03/08/2018
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    Each Thursday morning, we offer a walking tour to discover the birds of Sanibel Island's East End...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    03/08/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • In partnership with the Frances Pew Hayes Center for Lifelong Learning, Hodges University is pres...


  • In partnership with the Frances Pew Hayes Center for Lifelong Learning, Hodges University is pres...


  • Wicked Dolphin Distillery Tour

    03/08/2018
    03:00PM — 04:00PM

    We will take you through the steps of how we source our ingredients, cook, ferment, distill, in o...


  • 14th Annual Magic Under the Mangroves

    03/08/2018
    05:30PM — 09:30PM

    The Conservancy of Southwest Florida will host the 14th annual Magic Under the Mangroves gala din...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Shell Point Retirement Community’s 2017-2018 Concert Series welcomes Southwest Florida Symphony t...


  • Norma

    03/08/2018
    07:30PM

    In Roman-occupied Gaul, a Druid priestess and a Roman official—Norma and Pollione—have fallen in ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/08/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • The environmental center is open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 8am-4pm, unless there is a p...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    03/09/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Friday Nine & Dine

    03/09/2018
    03:30PM

    Looking for a fun golf league at a TEE-rific value and the chance to make some new friends this w...


  • Ladies' Night at The Paint Escape

    03/09/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Cape Coral Star Gazing Party

    03/09/2018
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Friday, March 9th, 2018 7pm-10pm Free! No flashlights, please. Join the Southwest Florida ...


  • Carmen

    03/09/2018
    07:30PM

    All-consuming, ill-fated passion rules the tumultuous love of a gypsy and a corporal. Carmen ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/09/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • The environmental center is open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 8am-4pm, unless there is a p...


  • Downtown Farmers Market

    03/10/2018
    08:00AM — 01:00PM

    The Cape Coral Farmers’ Market is located in downtown Cape Coral at the intersection of S.E. 47th...


  • Bonita Springs Farmers Market

    03/10/2018
    08:00AM — 12:00PM

    Join us every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon through April 28th on the west side of the parking lot...


  • Community Beach Walk

    03/10/2018
    09:00AM

    Join us for a casual guided beach walk to explore what's washed ashore. Let's talk about some of ...


  • Open Painting at The Paint Escape

    03/10/2018
    10:00AM — 06:00PM

    Ceramic painting for children and adults, create a decorative item. Friday night offers ladie...


  • Nature Hike

    03/10/2018
    10:00AM — 11:00AM

    Join a park naturalist for a walk on the Nature Trails of Koreshan State Historic Site. Learn som...


  • Sun Splash Opening Day!

    03/10/2018
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    Slide into the 2018 season with some fun in the sun March 10th from 10am - 5pm!☺️☀️ Enjoy 14-a...


  • In this inventive and highly theatrical adaptation, join Peter and Lucy on their travels to Narni...


  • Wicked Dolphin Distillery Tour

    03/10/2018
    03:00PM — 04:00PM

    We will take you through the steps of how we source our ingredients, cook, ferment, distill, in o...


  • The Black Party

    03/10/2018
    05:00PM

    Sarasota's most exciting all-black-attire event returns for it's third installment. On March 10, ...


  • Complete original art while enjoying friends, music and favorite beverages. Materials provided, o...


  • Tiefland

    03/10/2018
    07:30PM

    Marta is the unwilling mistress of a wealthy landowner, Sebastiano. To keep the poor girl near hi...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/10/2018
    08:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • Sanibel Island Farmer's Market

    03/11/2018
    08:00AM — 01:00PM

    The Sanibel Island Farmers Market was established in 2008. It is a favorite outdoor activity for...


  • Norma

    03/11/2018
    01:30PM

    In Roman-occupied Gaul, a Druid priestess and a Roman official—Norma and Pollione—have fallen in ...


  • Northside Hollow

    03/11/2018
    02:00PM

    Trapped underground after a deadly collapse, a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a...


  • Bernstein At 100

    03/11/2018
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers Jeffrey Faux, Artistic Director A celebration of Leonard B...