The blue iguana (Cyclura lewisi) was once king of the Caribbean Island, Grand Cayman. Weighting in at 25 pounds, measuring over 5 feet, and living for over sixty years, nothing could touch this regal lizard. But then the unthinkable happened: cars, cats, and dogs, along with habitat destruction, dethroned Grand Cayman’s reptilian overlord. The lizard went from an abundant population that roamed the island freely to practically assured extinction. In 2002, researchers estimated that two dozen—at best—survived in the wild. Despite the bleak number, conservationists started a last ditch effort to save the species. With help from local and international NGOs, the effort, dubbed the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, has achieved a rarity in conservation. Within nine years it has raised the population of blue iguanas by twenty times: today 500 wild blue iguanas roam Salina Reserve.
How did they do it?
Blue iguanas are raised in captive breeding until they are two years old—big enough to keep feral cats at bay, which were decimating juvenile iguanas. Once they hit two, they are released in the 625 acres of Salina Reserve. Populations are then monitored.