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A mystery disease could be culprit in blue iguana deaths

Cayman’s iconic blue iguana population, once down to the brink of extinction, is on the rebound.

But a bacterial disease has emerged, and it’s suspected in the death and illnesses of more than a dozen blue iguanas dating back to May of 2015.

“Lethargic, too easy to catch, and we took it to the vet straight away,” said Blue Iguana Recovery Project Field Officer Karen Ford.

She looked back to May of 2015, when a wild female blue iguana was found suffering an unknown ailment.

“She died of blood poisoning, basically the same day,” recalled Ms. Ford.

Another wild blue iguana a male displaying similar symptoms, was treated that same month, making a full recovery. All told, 17 blue iguanas have fallen ill. 14 have died.

“It took a while to figure out what was going on,” admitted Ms. Ford.

With help from St. Matthews university and the Wildlife Conservation Society, a potential culprit was identified.

“It was the helicobacter disease,” said Ms. Ford.

Ms. Ford told Cayman 27 helicobacter was present in more than half of the fatalities.

The National Trust said Dr. Ioana Popescu is launching a study to determine if the invasive green iguana is capable of transmiting the helicobacter disease to the native blue iguanas. If so, it could mean the greens are functioning as a reservoir for the infection.

“They’ve made their way from West Bay and now they’re up in East End, so the interaction between the blues and the greens is more full on now. That’s why we are speculating it’s green iguanas, because their relationship has become more intimate,” said Ms. Ford.

If the study results support the hypothesis, the hope is, the information will help prevent and treat further infection, and continue the blue iguana’s remarkable rebound from a low of less than 15 individuals in 2003.

“Just because we have reached more than a thousand in the wild that it stops there,” said National Trust Executive Director Christina Pineda. “The threats will never go away.”

The Blue Iguana Recovery Project says there are around 200 blue iguanas at the Queen’s Botanical Park, in addition to the more than 1,000 in the wild.


About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to josephavary@hurleysmedia.ky

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