In Search Of The Blue Iguana

I walked along the path through the dry forest with my eyes constantly searching the rocks and bushes. It was late afternoon and shadows were starting to obscure various possible hiding places. I had walked at least a mile around the trail without seeing one. I was beginning to feel disappointed. How could I walk so far and search so thoroughly but not see one?

Then I came around the bend of the trail back to the main part of the park. There he was in the clearing, lounging in the sun on a large brick circle. The blue iguana.

in search of the blue iguana
These bricks are nice and warm!

Many visitors to the tropics have seen green iguanas. Green iguanas may be found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and as far north as Texas and South Florida. I saw several large green iguanas on a trip to St. John in the US Virgin Islands. One lived on an island in the main swimming pool at the Westin Hotel, serenely observing the children splashing all around him.

Green iguanas are also commonly kept as pets due to their calm disposition, although they can be demanding to care for properly. A guy in my hometown had a very large iguana that roamed freely in his house. I don’t think my mother would have gone for that. Bad enough cleaning up after it when it lives in a cage, what about in the living room? I don’t think you could house train an iguana. And how would you teach it to stay off the couch?

My best friend Chip had an iguana named Zeke. He kept it in a terrarium in his room for several years. It started to grow bigger and bigger, and he had to keep getting a bigger terrarium. Unfortunately, his room was in the basement. It was the middle of winter in Minnesota and he went away for a few days. Somebody in his family, I can’t remember who, saw the light on in his room and thought electricity was being wasted. So he or she turned off the light. Chip came home to find a cold, dead pet. Reptiles need heat, you know.

Blue iguanas are different than green iguanas. Yes, they are a different color (as my kids used to say, “thank you, Captain Obvious!”). Green iguanas were brought to the Cayman Islands from Honduras and are an invasive species. The only place in the world where blue iguanas are found is on the island of Grand Cayman. When I hear statements like that, I always wonder, how did they get there and only there?

Blue iguanas were the original beach goers of Grand Cayman. I can picture them soaking up sun rays on the sands of Seven Mile Beach long before any Native Americans arrived. As humans populated the island in the 1800s, the blue iguanas were pushed into the interior. Over time their numbers fell due to habitat destruction and attacks by feral cats and dogs, and became one of the most critically endangered species on earth. By 2001, only five iguanas survived in the wild.

A recovery program was started at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. In 2006, captive bred blue iguanas were first released into the park. Each iguana was tagged with colored beads through its crest and a microchip. A photo was taken of the pattern of the scales on their heads, because these patterns are unique to each individual.

big blue iguana on Grand Cayman
Note the beads on his crest

I’m not sure how many blue iguanas are now released into the Botanic Park. There needs to be at least 1,000 animals in the wild to get the blue iguana removed from the Critically Endangered list.

I did see five blue iguanas during my walk around the Botanic Park. If you walk slowly and look carefully at the small sunny gaps between the brush, rocks, and fallen tree limbs, you may spot them. None, however, were as large or as magnificent as the big one snoozing right out in the open, waiting for the sunburned tourists to snap his picture.

P.S. Keith Richards, if you’re reading this, take note of this sign:

Coconut tree sign
Don't stand under these trees, and certainly don't climb on them...