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Remarkable comeback: blue iguana downgraded to Endangered after determined conservation efforts

Blue iguana in Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Photo by: Lhb1239.
Blue iguana in Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Photo by: Lhb1239.

The wild blue iguana population has increased by at least 15 times in the last ten years, prompting the IUCN Red List to move the species from Critically Endangered to just Endangered. A targeted, ambitious conservation program, headed by the Blue Iguana Recovery Team, is behind this rare success for a species that in 2002 only numbered between 10 and 25 individuals.

Endemic to Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean, the blue iguana (Cyclura lewisi) suffered precipitous declines due to habitat loss, collisions with cars, and invasive species, i.e. cats, dogs, and rats, that killed off young iguanas en masse. The island is also overrun with common iguanas (Iguana iguana), which, fortunately, do not breed with their blue relatives. Responding to the near extinction of blue iguanas, conservationists quickly set up a captive breeding program, which allowed them to rear young iguanas and then release them into three different protected areas on the island once they were big enough, around two years old, to fend off alien predators.

Currently over 400 adult blue iguanas again roam Grand Cayman, marking a rare bit of upbeat news in the global extinction crisis. In all, scientists believe they have room in the three park—Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Salina Reserve, and Colliers Wilderness Reserve—for a population of around 1,000 iguanas, unless more protected habitat can be secured.

Blue iguanas are known for remarkably long lives, allegedly over 60 years in captivity, and are the Grand Cayman’s largest native animal, growing to over 5 feet long.

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