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Only on Roatan

25 Feb

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.

Meet #186
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!


13 Responses to “Only on Roatan”

  1. Johnny 25. Feb, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Is there a solution in protecting the Black Iguana from extinction??

  2. Bobbi 26. Feb, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    I want a black spiny tailed iguana!! Fantastic post my friend!!!


  3. Gennyca 26. Feb, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    I’m going to ask Stesha come on the Roatan Vortex Show on roatanradio.com and have her share what can be done!

  4. Gennyca 26. Feb, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Hey Bobbi,

    Black spiny tailed iguanas are pretty cool!
    I directed a fellow former “Rockers” your way! hectictravels.com is hanging out on Roatan for a while!

  5. Johan Borremans 26. Feb, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Hi, Gennica and co-vortexed Roatanians!
    I am very happy with the news that not only Utila has black Iguana .We should immediately protect it.
    Lets start with a Black Iguana Club and do something.
    I hereby authorise Mis Stesha, to do all the necessary scientific research ,even breeding …on my property in Jonesville Blue-Rock (The 12 acres all wild slope and valley at the back of the Hole in the Wall-cliffs,between Friendship and the Left Bightie of Jonesvillebight.Road: Jonesville-point-Terra Chula till frente a Mariposa)Why not look on the South-side?
    I allready decided in favour of the green iguana, not to divide in less than 0.5 acre ,keep the roads narrow and impose a wild bush-perimeter around every ground, and i did forbid any form of hunting/poaching.
    We will put sand-heaps for the breeding and every advice is wellcome about this.What plants ar their daily diet?;do they use local sweat water sources e.o??
    I regret very much that many Western brokers give sistematically a total chopping-advice to ground-buyers…
    All the best with the study and let us know what you’ve found!
    Johan and Alla , Antwerp , Belgium.

  6. Stesha 26. Feb, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    First off, thanks so much for coming along and writing this story up. It is great!

    To address the question of protection, I truly feel that it is possible to succeed. It is not an easy task but I feel through outreach and education there is hope. The added difficulty in this situation is that there is very little known about this species so we need to collect basic data as well as do outreach. As individuals everyone can do their part by making sure not to eat iguana, advising tourists not to eat iguana, asking others not to hunt on your property, thinking about the affects that habitat alteration may have on the local wild life and spreading the word about how this species can only be found on Roatan. As mentioned I don’t think it is reasonable to try to stop hunting all together but decreases in hunting, especially when it is not necessary or done for sport can really go a long way.

  7. Stesha 26. Feb, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Johan and Alla,

    Thanks so much for your interest in this project and willingness to let me work on your land. It sounds like you are already doing a lot of great things to help this species out. I do have sites all over the island but am always looking for more. I actually live on the east side and Jonesville is very near so this would be great. Please contact me offline at steshapasachnik@yahoo.com so we can chat more and set up a time for me to come visit your area.


  8. johan.borremans 27. Feb, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    Yes , we can do a lot for the black iguana ;
    see “the Bay Isles Foundation,,our give in on Google
    German biologists started there a breeding-station since 1994, and have a splendid site and program about it.
    They conserve and breed there a variety of black “mangrove,,-iguana called Chtenosauri bakeri, or swamper or wishi-willy.Another type in the Aguan-province and The Cayos Cochinos is also protected by the same Bay-Isles Foundation.So; how, and what to do can easily, be learned there.
    I believe the first thing to do is to avoid the complete chopping of building-sites(lawn-making) and lots getting smaller and smaller wit no bush left over(containing the usual feeding-leaves for iguana.)and to provide quiet sandy spots for breeding.(Arch should know a lot about it..and might advise us)Probably cats/dogs feed on it to…If you like to eat it ….better to breed it then!I suppose this habit will disappear in time ,as “hamburgueres ,,will be more affordable.
    Y also want to mention that the Roatan deer , are less and less seen…and that there are allso very few ,indigenous green and red Roatan-parrots and not to forget a lot of waterbirds of the butorides-family such as crabcatchers,egrets,herons, etc in the disappearing wetlands. Keep Roatan nature green and alive!

  9. johan.borremans 27. Feb, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    sorry; give in on Google “utila iguana-station ,,

  10. Peter Kuhlmann 27. Feb, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Great job Gennie with a “G”. We bought the book and Linda is really enjoying it!!!

    Last year as every year I had the local boys from the neighborhood doing odd jobs for me here at Sundancer. I noticed one of the boys picked up a big rock threw it against a tree and smashed what I believed to be a black iguana. I was put out with him and after scolding him I asked why he did it. His answer was that he hated those, but couldn’t give me an answer why. Now this was a 16 year old “young man” so it wasn’t just an irrational act or maybe it was. To this day I don’t understand the motivation or the thinking behind it.

    Thank you to all who work on behalf of local plants and animals.


  11. Stesha 27. Feb, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Yes, I am actually here working for the Bay Islands Foundation. After completing my PhD at the University of Tennessee I moved to Roatan last July to begin work with this species of Black Iguana. My PhD research focused on the four species within the C. palearis clade, which includes C. oedirhina (Roatan), C. bakeri (Utila), C. melanosterna (Valle de Aguán and Cayos Cochinos) and C. palearis (Valle de Motagua, Guatemala). So I have extensive experience in all these areas with all of the species over the last 7 years. These four species are the most threatened of all the 18 species of ctenosaurs occurring in Mexico and Central America. Through my PhD research I learned that C. oedirhina is actually in the most critical situation because the least is known about it, nearly nothing has been done since its description in 1987. In order to create a sustainable management strategy we need to gather vital life history information about this species, including habitat requirement for nesting and breeding, dietary requirements, and other biotic characteristics. Though much is being done to understand other species, such as C. bakeri on Utila and the green iguanas such as those that Sherman Arch works with, we need to understand how Roatan’s Spiny-tailed iguana needs may be different from other types of iguanas. My work here is to acquire this information and then use it to create an education program and a management plan. In addition this species is part of a complex ecosystem to protecting it will aid in the protection of many other species of plants and animals. For example, these iguanas are one of the most important seed dispersers for the island, so protecting it will aid in the protection of many threatened species of plants on the island.

  12. Wilson Usman 27. Feb, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    How cool is this, I use to love animals much more when I was a little kid, I even use to collect these cards that came with a chocolate bar in Colombia called JET. But as I grew older I lost interest, glad to learn something new about iguanas though, really interesting blog.

  13. Gennyca 27. Feb, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    I am so pleased to see how through the Roatan Vortex I can help spread the word about Stesha’s efforts to educate about the Black Iguana. Stesha, thank you for bringing your dedication to the Black Iguana to our attention. Peter, thank you for buying the Roatan Vortex Book, I’m so glad Linda is enjoying it!!!

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