Jul 19

Ten years ago the Cayman Island blue iguana numbered just two dozen individuals, but thanks to concerted conservation efforts this rare lizard is on the road to a remarkable recovery.

Photo of Cayman Island blue iguana resting on rock

Last ditch attempt to save the species 

Weighing in at over 11 kilograms and measuring over 1.5 metres in length, the Cayman Island blue iguana is by far the largest native animal on Grand Cayman, the only place in which it occurs. 

Predation was never a concern for this impressive lizard until cats and dogs were introduced to the island. Together with habitat destruction and collisions with cars, this has slowly pushed the species ever closer to extinction. 

In 2002, conservationists began a last ditch attempt to save the iguana. With help from local and international conservation partners, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program has bred and released more than 500 blue iguanas back into the wild, increasing its population by twenty times.

Photo of Cayman Island blue iguana feeding

Remarkable success 

Blue iguanas are raised in captivity until two years old, when they are big enough to keep feral cats at bay. Once they hit two, the blue iguanas are released and monitored in the Salina Reserve on Grand Cayman. 

The programme has been such a success that conservationists have also started releasing blue iguanas into a new protected area, the Colliers Wilderness Reserve. This month, the programme confirmed the first breeding blue iguanas in the reserve. The goal is now to hit a population of 1,000 blue iguanas and, given recent success, this may be achieved fairly quickly.

Close up of a male Cayman Island blue iguana

For the past several years, we’ve succeeded in adding hundreds of animals to the wild population, all of which receive a health screening before release,” said Dr Paul Calle, Director of Zoological Health for WCS’s Bronx Zoo. 

Fred Burton, Director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, said: “We expect to reach our goal of 1,000 iguanas in managed protected areas in the wild in a few years. After that, we will monitor the iguanas to make sure they are reproducing in the numbers needed to maintain the wild population. If we get positive results, we will have succeeded.” 

View more images of the Cayman Island blue iguana on ARKive

Read the WCS press release – Grand Cayman blue iguana: Back from the brink of extinction.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author