Into the wild: Iguana population studies

Hello once again readers. Firstly let me just apologize for the lack of posts lately, its been a busy time at the station, and we are hoping to get back on track really soon.
I’m Dave, and I’ve been at the station for four weeks now. Over the last two to three weeks I’ve had the fortune of handling an array of different species both in and out of the station. We recently had an Iguana specialist staying with us from Roatan who needed some blood samples from the wild Swampers in the mangroves, in an attempt to discover the stress that human contact causes the Iguanas. I enlisted straight away with visions of frolicking through the mangroves under a canopy of more then just slightly worried looking Iguanas, dazed by the ever strange actions of mankind. The reality was not so, mangroves if you have never had the pleasure of visiting them are wet, claustrophobic and exceptionally smelly. So smelly in fact I dare say I’d rather stick my head into Graham’s laundry bag (which could have some serious health implications even with minimal exposure). The dream team consisted of myself, Volka, Steve, Liza, Andrea and our guest of honor. Once we had reached a prime ‘catching’ spot we set up our portable labs, and with fishing rods in hand the hunt began.

We caught our first Swamper, a male,  relatively quickly (this first catch was why we did not travel further before setting up a base camp). Situated at a comfortable height up a tree, he was fairly easy to loop our line around, before *swish* Steve pulled him right off into his waiting hands. Although it may have been mentioned in previous posts, I’ll give you a quick reminded as to how we (mostly) safely handle Iguanas. Firstly we aim to hold their back legs with a gentle pressure to suppress their legs (or more importantly sharp claws) and hinder their escape movements. The second hand has the more important job, keeping the mouth closed. Iguanas can and will bite if they feel really agitated, though most prefer to remain still, and seize any weakness of grip as a chance to break for freedom, usually involving a drop of five feet into the murky depths below.

*Interesting fact: Swamper’s teeth are relatively small, and are serrated. This is important to remember in the event of getting bitten, do NOT attempt to pull or yank your fingers free, you will only deepen the wound and strip yourself of more flesh. Keep your finger/appendage perfectly still and wait for the Iguana to release before pulling out.* (I appreciate most of you reading this will not encounter this situation, I however, have, and wish to spread the message before someone attempts to play tug of war with an Iguana using their finger. This is not advised…)

Once we had caught an Iguana, we had a strict time limit of no more then five minutes navigate the mangroves to the base camp, where the first blood sample would be taken from the upper end of the Iguana’s thick tails. This is done to minimize harm to the Iguana’s body. Once the sample was taken the Iguana was, measured in length, weighed and bead tagged (two beads colored to show date and location caught) and had a number painted on them. Yes, a number, not a natural feature of the Wild Swamper, I half envisage large beetle jockey’s riding their numbered and tagged Iguana in their grand mangrove races, who will ascend the tree first? Its number 171 in the lead and so on and so forth…

The Iguanas were then put into pillow cases to calm down in a dark and secluded environment, for after half an hour a second sample would be needed. This acted as a comparative sample. Once this was done we freed them back to the tree of their origin, allowing them to… sit pretty much still and not move until we were long out of eye sight, my hopes to watch them dash madly up a tree were sorely scrapped. In our roughly 5 hour expedition we caught a total of 13 Iguanas, 10 of which were male. This helps confirm the research that there are roughly 11 males to just 4 females in the wild, this no doubt is largely attributed to the extreme poaching of pregnant females that still exists on the Island.

We had to repeat the process back at the station, thankfully after a long cold shower, to complete a comparative study. We took one Iguana from each of our enclosures and completed the same procedures. I found it unsurprising that our captive Iguana were much more reluctant to take part in the test, bites and scratches were received and we had a near-escape. The two samples from each Iguana would become subject to centrifuges, however the results of the research will not be discovered for a little while yet, as our specialist had to return to the USA to get the right equipment needed to finish the testing. We are hoping to hear about some results soon, we’ll keep you posted.

No rest for the wicked though, it was Paul’s turn to voyage out the next day for round two.


~ by iguana321 on July 19, 2011.

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