The Critically Endangered Turks and Caicos rock iguana (Cyclura carinata) is unique to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The rock iguana was once found abundantly throughout these beautiful islands, but due to ongoing habitat loss and the spread of rodents, feral cats and dogs they can now only be found on small offshore cays. Rodents, feral cats and dogs have been introduced by people to these islands and they eat the adults, juveniles and eggs of the iguanas and are continuing to cause declines in the amazing native wildlife of Turks and Caicos. Feral cats and dogs are not like your pets at home, they are wild animals and are a serious problem across the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The last remaining strongholds for the rock iguana are Little Water Cay (also known as ‘Iguana Island’) and Big Ambergris Cay. Iguana Island, managed by the Turks and Caicos National Trust, is the most accessible place in the world for people to view the rock iguanas in their natural habitat and is a significant tourist destination. Unfortunately, black rats and feral cats have invaded Iguana Island, and one of the last rock iguana strongholds is under threat.
However, there is hope. ‘Saving the Iguana Islands of the Turks & Caicos’ is a three-year partnership project between Turks and Caicos National Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, San Diego Zoo, TCI Department for Environment and Coastal Resources and TCI Department of Agriculture; which began in April 2017. Funded by the Darwin Initiative, this project is aiming to establish effective controls and biosecurity on Iguana Island and Big Ambergris Cay to provide safe havens for the amazing rock iguana as well as surveying to better understand them. Also, a privately-funded project will begin in April 2019, aiming to remove all rodents and feral cats from Iguana Island, and the adjoining Water Cay and Pine Cay, creating more suitable predator-free habitat for the iguanas.
One of the most important activities to make this work a success is to improve the understanding of the importance of the project to the country and the role everyone plays in safeguarding these unique creatures for future generations. Turks and Caicos National Trust is leading a public awareness campaign, funded by the EU BEST program, which focuses on raising awareness and pride in Turks and Caicos Islanders of the amazing wildlife only found on these beautiful islands. The Turks and Caicos National Trust, and ‘Rocky’ the iguana, have been attending events and schools across the islands to discuss the amazing wildlife of the Turks and Caicos and the work to reduce the impact of non-native predators. Look out for ‘Rocky’ and the team on your next trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands!