Cruise tours help Blue Iguanas surviveMay 25th, 2005 | By admin | Category: Blues in the Local Press
Cruise passengers will soon experience the delights of the Cayman Blue Iguana up close and personal at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.
The Blue Iguana Recovery Programme will also benefit greatly from the funds brought in by the cruise tours. Set up to try and save the iguanas from extinction, the recovery programme is run by the National Trust of the Cayman Islands under programme Director Fred Burton. It is hoped that tours can begin this week at the park, if demand allows it.
Initially two tours a day are planned. Passengers will be collected by bus from the cruise dock in George Town and transported to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park for their tour. Each tour will consist of a maximum of 25 tourists who will be shown the iguana captive breeding and conservation programme facilities and will also be give the chance to view the iguanas that have been released into the park. The tourists will also stop by the visitors centre.
The Blue Iguana is Grand Caymans largest native land animal. A giant, dragonlike blue lizard which grows to more than five feet long and more than 25 lbs. The National Trust for the Cayman Islands began captive breeding Blue Iguanas in 1990, in response to a government sponsored survey in 1988 which found wild iguanas to be so scarce that extinction seemed imminent. The recovery plans goal is to restore at least 1,000 Blue Iguanas in the wild. Mr. Burton explained that the captive programme holds at least 200 iguanas, which can climb to 300 for a brief period during the year. Thirty iguanas have been released into the Botanic Park itself and 23 were released into the National Trusts Salina Reserve, about a mile inland from the Queens Highway.
Mr. Burton described the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, to which he is donating his services, as very successful, but highlighted the pressing need to establish enough land to continue releasing iguanas into suitable living conditions in the wild. The Botanic Park is reaching its capacity limit and much of the Salina Reserve consists of tall dry forest, when the iguana prefers low, dry shrub land. The enemies of the Blue Iguana are dogs, cats and fast cars so they need to be located somewhere with a low risk of being persecuted from these. Ultimately we will be able to breed and release enough to save the species, but we need more space, said Mr. Burton. The cruise tours are something Mr. Burton is very hopeful about for funding for the programme. Hopefully the cruise ship tours will pay enough to give a sustainable income to the programmes staff and fund the programme, he said. At the moment the paid staff on the programme consists of two wardens.
When high tourist season begins Mr. Burton foresees a need for some extra tour guides when they grow to four tours a day. However, he also pointed out the importance of the programme not overextending itself. We need to bear in mind that we should expand at a pace we can actually handle, he said. The programme has benefited greatly from voluntary donations locally and from overseas. One organisation in particular, the International Reptile Conservation Foundation out of California, has really assisted the programme. This organisation created and manages the programmes website www.blueiguana.ky, does its publications, raises money and has coordinated a volunteer programme.