Some Background to the Project

So my work here varies slightly from day to day, but the main themes are the conservation of Bats and Iguanas, I’ll be talking about my work with the latter briefly in this blog. On the island of Utila there are 4 endemic species, one of which is the Swamper (Ctenosaura bakeri) or Baker’s spiny tail iguana.


Swamper Iguana

This Iguana is classified as critically endangered, there are two main factors contributing to this; hunting affects Iguanas all over the developing world, presumably they’re rather tasty as over hunting is driving this particular Iguana to the edge of extinction and the lack of education and job opportunties amongst the locals means that many of the hunters are unaware of the damage they’re doing to this species or they have no other way of making money. The other problem is the destruction of their habitat. Mangrove swamps aren’t the most stunning places in the world at first glance and they can be perceived as offering little in land value. This is perhaps the reason that they are so readily destroyed to further development of beach homes and holiday resorts that add to Utila’s successful tourism industry. This is tragic however, as mangrove swamps are a beautiful, unique and important ecosystem; they protect the island from coastal erosion and are incredibly biodiverse. I’ve witnessed some of the destruction first hand and it really is awful to see how shortsighted people can be and how they treat an environment, which they ultimately depend on. The irony is that a tourism industry based on the beauty of the island’s coral reefs is damaging the mangrove swamps, which act as a nursery for many of the reef’s species of fish.


In the thick of the mangroves


An area of mangroves that has been destroyed

The day-to-day work

I largely assist on the population studies of the species (Ctenosaura bakeri). The Utilian Iguana is only found in the mangroves of Utila. This means I get the pleasure of spending most of my time wading through the warm salty waters of the mangroves on the ‘hunt’ for Iguanas. When I first arrived in the mangroves the Iguana’s seemed like some kind of mythical beings or reptilian ninjas, invisible to the naked eye! Even when my other teammates would point one out, I could rarely actually see them until we were right by the tree it was sat in. Like any good hunter though I’ve adapted and learnt how to think like an Iguana, now despite their best efforts to hide, I’m spotting almost half of the Iguanas we tag on an average day in the field, which feels pretty good! Especially when I am ‘hunting’ them to protect them and not for any other reason. Locating the Iguanas is only the first half of the battle, catching them is the next art that had to be mastered. We use a long pole with a noose on the end.


Jordyn Mulder catching an Iguana

This is the most effective method of catching them and doesn’t cause them too much stress, which is a good job really as an angry Iguana can have a mean whippy tail and will try it’s best to take a bite out of your thumb in order to get away! From 12ft below underneath the Caribbean sun, an Iguana’s head is quite a tricky target to loop a noose over. A personal highlight of mine is climbing the trees to get closer to my catch. This also provides an amazing view of the rest of the mangroves and helps me to scope out other potential areas they might be hiding out in.


Me climbing to catch my next Iguana

Each Iguana gets a unique number and the tree it was caught in is labeled and marked on a GPS. This part is very important as each Iguana ‘owns’ maybe a handful of trees in its territory and needs to be released onto its own tree to avoid any neighbourhood disputes. I know I wouldn’t be too thrilled if when I got home after a long day at work and my neighbour was sat on my sofa, so we try to pay them the courtesy of always returning them home. Tagging an Iguana consists first of a visual tag made of beads, these are essentially jazzy piercings that make the Iguana look stylish, without impeding its everyday life and allow us to instantly see if it’s a recapture or a new Iguana. Once we’ve done this we give them a PIT tag sub-dermally around its mid region. This allows us to scan and identify the Iguana and get information by looking at our past records, such as its home territories, an estimation of age etc. These tags also allow us to monitor the growth of juveniles. It’s always encouraging to re-capture an adult that was released as a juvenile several years previously and managed to survive! Once we’ve done the relevant tagging and taken a photo of their perdy little faces we put them back on their tree to carry on sunbathing and hopefully avoiding the other Iguana hunters on the island.


Taking an Iguana’s measurements


Inserting a bead tag


Each individual is returned to the tree from which they were caught