Blue Iguana Recovery Program

Our Conservation Strategy

The original wild population of Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas has been reduced from a near island-wide distribution to a near-extinct remnant due to the combined influences of habitat conversion, historic hunting, the introduction of non-native species, and road kill. By 2005 any young being born to the unmanaged wild population were not surviving to breeding age, meaning the population was functionally extinct.

Recovery efforts for the Blue Iguanas are now being implemented by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, which operates under the auspices of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, with local and international partners.

The conservation strategy involves generating large numbers of genetically diverse hatchlings, head-starting them to an age where survival in the wild is high, and using them to rebuild a series of wild subpopulations in protected, managed natural areas. A rapid numerical increase from a maximum possible number of founders, is sought to minimize loss of genetic diversity from the population bottleneck.

As these restored wild subpopulations approach the carrying capacity of their respective protected areas, release of head-started animals will be phased out and the sub-populations will be left to reproduce naturally. Guided by research and monitoring, control or eradication of non-native predators will be implemented to the degree necessary to allow young to survive to maturity, in sufficient numbers to maintain these subpopulations.

Restored subpopulations are already present in two non-contiguous areas (the Salina Reserve, and the QE II Botanic Park) and additional subpopulations will be restored in one or more other areas. The overall population, which must number at least 1,000 individuals living within the protected areas, is likely to remain genetically fragmented in the long term. Individuals will be translocated between subpopulations to maintain overall genetic diversity, guided by ongoing genetic monitoring. Dispersal of iguanas into unprotected land outside the protected areas will build an even higher total wild population and allow for some gene flow between protected areas, but this portion of the population must be regarded as potentially transient, since unprotected dry land is almost all expected to be converted to incompatible human uses in a matter of decades.

As a hedge against disaster striking the Blue Iguana population on Grand Cayman, the existing off-island captive population will be maintained at least until restored wild populations on Grand Cayman are securely established in three separate protected areas.

Maintenance of Blue Iguanas in the wild will require active management into the indefinite future. To sustain this activity, a range of commercial activities will generate the sustained funding required, while an ongoing education and awareness effort will ensure continued involvement and support by the local community.