2018 Anegada Program Report
Report submitted by Kelly A. Bradley, Fort Worth Zoo
Photos by Kelly Bradley, unless otherwise noted
Overview. The Anegada Iguana conservation project is a long-term conservation program centered on headstarting iguanas to combat high juvenile mortality due to the presence of feral cats. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma devastated the entire British Virgin Islands (BVI) on 6 September 6 2017. Bradley proposed three main goals for 2018: 1) provide assistance to aid the recovery of the headstart program and our in-country partners, National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI), 2) equip the headstart facility with an effective disaster preparedness system, and 3) continue ongoing activities so the program does not lose momentum while the country begins the long journey to full recovery. These activities included: continuing support of the headstart program through the collection of hatchlings and releasing size-appropriate iguanas back to the wild; collaboration with botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens KEW to document the habitat’s recovery from the 2017 hurricane season; maintain the long-term camera trapping program inside the core iguana area; hosting the sixth annual Iguana Festival; and assisting with the production of a short conservation film highlighting the plight of the Anegada Iguana in the BVI.
Analysis and publication. A paper titled “Growth and Body Condition of Headstarted Iguanas, Cyclura pinguis, in Captivity and Following Release in Two Distinct Habitats of Anegada, British Virgin Islands” was submitted for publication to the Journal of Tropical Conservation Science. Survival analysis of the first headstarted released and animals is ongoing.
Hurricane preparedness. A Fort Worth Zoo team traveled to Anegada in July to repair hurricane damage and install new hurricane preparedness components. Repair work included: rebuilding the facility perimeter fence, repairing storm damage to the large walk-in cages and eight individual wooden cages, rebuilding the large outdoor graphics kiosk, rebuilding the main outdoor work area, and hauling away storm debris. Hurricane preparedness tasks included: installing seven raised planter beds (for callaloo), building a goat exclusion fence/gate for the garden, installing a garden irrigation system, and creating hurricane covers for the visitors center’s doors and windows.
Four hurricane kits were delivered to the headstart facility. The first was an iguana evacuation kit that includes tools and materials to quickly evacuate up to 80 captive iguanas and move them to a safe location during a major storm event. The second was a facility preparation kit that provides the tools and materials needed to secure the cages and visitors center to mitigate storms. The third was an emergency iguana food kit to ensure staff is able to feed the captive population in the event that inter-island travel is suspended and outside food resources are unavailable. This kit contains 200 pounds of Iguana Chow, one case of fruit baby food, five 5-gallon collapsible water carriers, two bags of Oxbow Herbivore Critical Care formula, and a large supply of callaloo seeds. The final kit was an iguana first aid kit that contains important medical supplies to aid staff in performing basic first aid to any iguanas injured during a storm.
The Fort Worth Zoo also supplied the NPTVI with solar chargers and three Garmin InReach Units that have two-way texting capability. The units use satellite networks and are able to communicate when local cellular systems are down. The first draft of an Anegada Iguana Hurricane Preparedness Manual has been created and is currently being reviewed by NPTVI staff.
Headstarting. Four nests were identified during nesting surveys in July, however only one nest hatched. Only eight new hatchlings were brought into the facility this year. Four hatchlings came from a nest located in Bones Bight. The remaining were random individuals K. Bradley came across while out in the field. Typically, 12–15 random hatchlings are collected per year, so it appears that 2018 conditions were not conducive to successful nests. One particular nest noted should have hatched since several nests have been collected in the same spot. K. Bradley was confident it was a viable nest, but it had not hatched by November. Following a facility inventory, 15 animals (7males, 8 females) were chosen to be released. Students from Claudia Creque Education Centre (grades 5–12) participated in the release on 24 October 2018. All 15 animals were released in Windlass Bight, bringing the total number of released animals up to 248.
The drought beginning in February 2018 likely contributed to low nesting success rather than the 2017 hurricanes. However, it cannot be ruled out that these are harmful effects from Irma. Currently, the facility only houses 34 individuals which is a result of zero hatchlings collected in 2017, only eight in 2018, plus two consecutive large releases in 2017 and 2018. K. Bradley will put a heavy focus on locating nests in 2019 to increase the facility’s numbers.
Iguana Fest 2018. This year’s festival was a great success with approximately 175 attendees. Notable guests included Joseph Smith Abbott (Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour), Kim Takeuchi (Unite BVI Foundation), and Mr. Vincent Wheatley (former Sisters Island Programme Coordinator). An equally important guest was Darvin Potter, who in the past has been a reluctant supporter of the iguana conservation program. After the festival, Mr. Potter shared that the festival was a mind-changing event for him and strongly expressed his approval of the festival and what it brings to the residents of Anegada.
This year’s Iguana Fest included a free breakfast, hotdog cookout for children, two iguana cakes, and candy. In addition, Big Bolo Back Yard Grill set up a booth and sold barbecue lunches and drinks. Festival activities included an early morning fun-run/walk for local residents, a family-friendly DJ, spraying down the kids with the fire hose, ecology coloring station, and many iguana/ecology games. As in years past, almost 400 official Iguana Fest T-shirts were given out. The shirts are much sought after, and additional requests come in long after they are out of stock. The shirts keep the program visible and create opportunities for conversations between researchers and locals throughout the year. The festival has become a favorite regional event that showcases the uniqueness of Anegada and its iguana.
Future. The 2019 work (e.g., collecting new hatchlings/releasing iguanas, long-term monitoring, and iguana/flora interactions) will ensure the program does not lose momentum as the country works toward full recovery from the 2017 hurricanes. Additional efforts will move the program towards a meta-population approach. The first phase is to conduct an extensive habitat assessment of Fallen Jerusalem, BVI, to ensure the island still affords iguanas their basic needs: varied plant community, appropriate nesting sites, absence of introduced species, and determine the presence of the Puerto Rican Racer.
Iguana Fest 2018 was a great success, but with such high numbers in attendance the festival’s format needs to change to increase its education impact on attendees. The plan is to setup independent stations where smaller, more manageable groups can complete education activities. The festival will have a mini passport that will get stamped when an activity is completed. Small prizes will be given out for completely filled passports. This format will require more volunteers to have all the stations running at once, but will ultimately result in greatly improved learning experience for festival participants.
Finally, the project’s car failed in 2018, and it was determined not cost-effective to repair it. The Fort Worth Zoo will donate and ship a car to Anegada in 2019. K. Bradley attempted to purchase a generator, but the demand for generators made them extremely overpriced in the BVI. A generator will be purchased in the US next year and shipped to finalize the hurricane preparedness.