The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is proud to announce that three Grand Cayman Island rock iguanas hatched on September 1, 2015. These iguanas, sometimes referred to as the “blue iguana”, are one of the most critically endangered reptile species in the world. They are only found on Grand Cayman Island. Zoos, including the Central Florida Zoo, are working hard to keep this species from becoming extinct. The hatchlings are not currently available for guest viewing, but the parents are on exhibit.
Grand Cayman Island rock iguanas are one of several species at the Zoo that are involved in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSP’s are managed breeding programs for individual species that are vanishing from the wild. The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens successfully hatched four of these lizards in the summer of 2012 as well.
“This hatching is very exciting and we are thrilled that this is the second time an AZA SSP recommended breeding has occurred at the Zoo this year,” said Philip Flynn III, Zoo President & CEO. ” With the two cotton-top tamarins born earlier this year, and now these iguanas hatching, we are fulfilling our commitment to conservation by ensuring that two important species do not become extinct.”
Though normally blue-gray in color when resting, Grand Cayman Island rock iguanas are also referred to as blue iguanas because during breeding season, or when excited, they turn a vivid shade of turquoise blue. Though once abundant, the Grand Cayman Island rock iguana has been reduced from a near island-wide distribution to a non-viable, fragmented remnant. By 2001, no young hatched in the unmanaged wild population were surviving to breeding age, meaning the population was functionally extinct, with only five animals remaining in the wild. The species’ decline was driven by predation by feral and introduced animals (cats and dogs eat the adult lizards, rats eat the young, and pigs destroy eggs), by destruction of their natural habitat, and by becoming road kill.
Fortunately, since 2004, managed breeding programs have helped reintroduce populations of the lizards into a preserve on the Island.