The things I share about Roatan, some, might say, “Oh you can find that on ANY Caribbean Island!” I dedicate this posting to you, because what I have to share today… can ONLY be found on Roatan!
I had the great pleasure of being invited to spend a day at Gumbalimba Park shooting pictures and taking notes (I felt like a National Geographic’s Field Reporter) accompanying Stesha A Pasachnik from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, while she conducted her research on the Ctenosaura Oedirhina.
Okay, that’s it for big words from me… I spent the day hanging out with Stesha (who is a super-duper expert,) taking pictures and asking questions about what the heck she was doing to those… Black “Spiny Tailed” Iguanas!
I’ve seen the Black Iguanas around Roatan, but certainly not as many as the green ones, apparently Black Iguana females lay up to 18 eggs at a time, while Green Iguanas lay up to 60 eggs at a time. I never gave the Iguanas much thought, Iguanas were like squirrels back in Ontario—wild critters that hung out in trees, doing their thing, but Iguanas don’t raid my birdfeeders like the squirrels always did.
Turns out I had a lot to learn! These Black Iguanas can ONLY be found on Roatan. That’s right, unlike the Green Iguana which has a territory stretching into North, Central, and South America, the Black Iguana has only one place it can be found and that is right here on the Island of Roatan! How cool is that!
But alas, they are in trouble, and on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified as ENDANGERED due to hunting and loss of habitat. Stesha tried to describe to me how a classification is determined, honestly, I didn’t quite grasp the information, but suffice to say there is less of them than there needs to be to keep the Black Iguanas going on Roatan. At the rate they are declining, the day will soon come when we on Roatan will have to tell visitors that there USED to be Black Iguanas (that were unique to Roatan)… but are now extinct!
It is not uncommon to see adults and children at the side of the road, looking up into the trees hoping to bag an Iguana that may be resting there. Iguanas (in general) are a food source here. I want to stress that Stesha’s intent is not to try to enforce a “no catch Black Iguanas” rule, she is on Roatan to track and record information about the Black Iguanas, and to educate us on their value as a unique to Roatan Treasure!
An interesting note on the Black Iguanas loss of habitat impacting their numbers is that Stesha is having more success finding them in developed areas where they are more protected from winding up in a stew pot, than in undeveloped areas where they are easy prey. Gumbalimba Park, Paya Bay Resort, Cocoview Resort, Mahogany Bay, and the village of Punta Gorda, all allow Stesha access to their properties to conduct her research and are becoming active partners in promoting eco educational programs for their visitors.
Upon arrival at Gumbalimba Park we were escorted via golf cart (also, my idea of something pretty cool) to a choice area for finding Black Iguanas hanging around in the grass and trees. Within minutes Stesha’s assistant, Mikel Belcires, caught one! Stesha was in place to bag the creature and immediately got busy preparing a syringe to take a blood sample. She had to work quickly to draw the blood before the stress of being captured effected the test results. #186 definitely wasn’t impressed and spent the whole time biting down on the sack he had been removed from. Blood tests complete, he was returned to the bag while she prepared the “pit tag” for insertion under his skin (this tag is similar to the ones inserted by vets to ID pet dogs and cats.) While the Black Iguana was still in the bag, Stesha weighed him, she removed him again and measured him, (the tail was measured separately due to the Black Iguana’s ability to loss and grow a new tail.) Inserted the “pit tag”, and then determined whether it was a male or female. Interesting tool to test that one… I won’t go into details.
Next up… body piercing and painting! #186 was assigned a unique combination of beads that made for a quite attractive piece of jewellery on the back of his neck, and “white-out” was applied for easiest identification at a later date. A few pictures were taken and #186 was free to go! The entire process took no more than 7 minutes, including Stesha recording all pertinent information as she worked.
I watched and took photos of a second Black Iguana being caught and data was also recorded for this one. The only difference was that #187 was much smaller and younger so some tests were not possible. Photos of the entire day’s activities can be seen here: The Black “spiny Tailed” Iguana Project
At noon it was time for us to part company and I headed for my vehicle parked in the lot at the entrance to Gumbalimba, I was pleased to see many Black Iguanas hanging around the area, sunning themselves on the rocks outlining the lot. I’ve got a whole new appreciation for the Black Iguana now!
A group of visitors were walking by as got in my car, and I heard one of them comment to his friends, “Hey look, an Iguana!” The rest of the group didn’t seem overly impressed. Then I leaned out the window and said, “These Black Iguanas can ONLY be found on the Island of Roatan.”
… The entire group returned, and started taking pictures of it, in awe of witnessing—Roatan’s Unique Treasure—the Black “Spiny Tailed” Iguana!