Into the wild: Iguana population studies

•July 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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.


New hatchlings say hello to the world!

•July 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

From my time working as a volunteer on this station, one thing that stands out is definitely the magic of the incubator!  The incubator is the home for iguana eggs until they reach the age when they are ready to leave the nest.

Iguanas have a mating season from February to March. From March to April iguana mothers travel all the way from the safety of mangroves to the beaches of Utila to lay their eggs into the sand. Iguana mothers lay from 6 to 24 eggs. However, the journey to the beach is not an easy one – even today one Honduran tradition and food delicacy on the island are iguanas and especially the mothers that are carrying the eggs inside of them. This is why hunters gather up to the beaches near February and March and try to catch the poor iguana mothers. What we do here on the station, is go to the mangroves before egg laying season and take the pregnant iguanas back to the station to wait until they lay their eggs and then release them back to the wild. This prevents hunters from killing the mothers, but also protects the eggs and ensures that as many eggs as possible survive.

Eggs of the iguanas that live here on the station and the eggs that are from wild iguana mothers are sorted into boxes that contain sand from the beaches of Utila to mimic the natural hatching process. The boxes are then introduced to the loving care of Incubator, where they spend around 90 days growing.



From July to August little iguana babies are ready to face the world and they start hatching.

Here on the station we keep a good eye on the eggs and at this time from July to August we are very busy taking care of the new hatclings. When the hatchlings are ready to pop out of the safety of their shells, we measure them (weight and length of the body and the tail) and take a DNA sample of their outer toes to mark them so that they can be recognized once released to the wild and also to conduct multiple DNA studies to gain more information about the Swamper of Utila (e.g. the differences between the populations of wild iguanas compared to the station iguanas, genetic tendencies etc.). We also check that the babies are healthy and mark everything out of ordinary down. The most common out-of-ordinary occurrence is that the umbilical cord is still connected to the baby. In these cases, we let the baby have a few days off before letting it go outside, to ensure that it has all the skills to enjoy its time outdoors!

On a good day, there might be as many as 40 new babies ready to be measured and weighed, and this takes fair amount of time due to the eagerness of the new babies to explore the office laboratory where we work. Sometimes just catching the little escapees takes a fair bit of our measuring time. After measuring they are released to the cages outside to get to know their brothers and sisters!

These hatchlings spend around one year at the station and are then micro-chipped and released to the wild.

•June 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hello dearest followers. We haven’t posted for a few days but what a fun packed few days it has been. We kicked of the weekend with one of our favourite activities; renting quad bikes, mopeds and a golf buggy to tour the island. This was kind of Dan’s last leaving activity as well so we tried to make the most of the time we had. However, as is typical of our motoring experiences on the island a few problems managed to get in the way of full enjoyment of this activity. 

First on the way to Pumpkin Hill Beach, I (James) managed to burst the tyre of my quad bike in the middle of nowhere. So after a long trek to the beach and a little bit of snorkelling I had to drive the quad back at – 5 mph to the garage where they kindly changed the (bald) tyre. After a little lunch and a new tyre we proceeded to the freshwater caves to show the new guys the erotic delights of al fresco swimming. However on the journey back from kinky time motoring disaster struck again. Growing in confidence with a moped, Rogan was trying his luck at riding faster than normal. Consequently he had a little accident in which he and Julia went skidding across the gravel floor. Medical attention followed and $20 debt followed that. In an attempt to emulate Rogan’s impressive accident, Graham, not wanting to be left out had one as well. However his attempt was pathetic and he grazed his foot, he seemed to do more damage to the tree he hit than himself. Boo-frickedy-hoo! 

After the adrenaline and injury filled Saturday, a relaxing day at the beach was required. The most memorable thing that happened on this day was an assault of the eyes and nose by two young dogs who found it necessary to shit either side of our beach area.

Sof and laura are having issues of their own as well. Having been here for many weeks ( I have lost count, they have probably out stayed their visa though and they won‘t let us watch Prison Break) they are finally trying to leave the island. This isn’t going to plan though, even though it is quite simple, it may be that they have been lost here for weeks and didn’t tell anyone. We think they want to go to Costa Rica, but they still haven’t left. They were supposed to leave on Thursday but they are still here. Im not even sure they know where Costa Rica is. I think a map is probably the solution. 

People’s bowels are also on the move. Kirstin has been a little unwell all week and now I have the bug. Expect to see me in the Guinness Book of World records next year as the man doing the most shits in a day (at least 10) and for the poo that most looks like Guinness. Sof has had a similar condition as well but is less liberal when it comes to describing poo and toilet etiquette.

Monday also brought a new working schedule and longer opening hours. The volunteers have been split in to two teams who rotate on a four day basis. Those who work four days get the following four days off whilst the other team works. We are also open from 12 – 5 every day.

In late night shenanigans and after copious alcohol consumption, Claire Rogan and Dave got a police escort home. Not for minor disturbances of the peace but because they are clearly suave and sophisticated people capable of charming Spanish speaking officers into being chauffeurs. After multiple nights out we have realised that Julia has now replaced Imogen as the Station party animal.

Volka and Cecilia (new arrivals) went night time turtle patrolling too this week and were fortunate enough to observe a turtle make two false nests. However they also discovered that; a) they are not very strong or, b) we have teenage mutant ninja turtles on the island as they could not manage to restrain the turtle for biometric measurement. I think that option b is the most likely.

In other animal news our recently captured juvenile swamper ‘Nilley’ will hopefully be released to day.

Now we close with a plea to the outside world. This morning whilst collecting my shit tablets (for the shits) I saw a truck crammed with five Honduran soldiers driving down the main strip. The air was also filled with the sound of aircraft flying fast and low. Needless to say that last night a plane full of drugs was flown onto the island. If you do not hear from us either; a) assume the worst it wasn’t drugs and there has been another coup, or b) we got caught and have been arrested, please phone the British Embassy.

Disclaimer: If we do not reply for a while, do not contact the British Embassy, this would be wasting the authorities time. It would be more likely that we haven’t replied because we couldn’t be arsed. Furthermore we don’t actually know that much about the drugs raid so if the Honduran authorities are reading this, please do not arrest us.

Shenanigans with the new kids on the block.

•June 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since the last blog and since then there’s been a fair few new additions to the station. I’ll start by listing who’s here;
Laura, Sophie, James, Dan, Lisa, Graham, Kirsten, Jade, Claire, Rogan, Julia.
Throughout the week we’ve all been finding our feet and working out what our jobs are here. We’ve all grown big enough cojones (Get the Spanish dictionary out!) to get in the iguana cages and we’ve started the war on mosquitos.
My first night here was Imogens last. We all trooped down to an awesome Israeli food joint where we ate our own body weight in falafel and attempted to fit some beer in too at Tranquila.

For our whole first week the island came to a stand still with most of the shops and bars closed because of the heinous crime of tax evasion.. Who’d have thought the tax man could find you here. Maybe not the most obvious crime you’d have associated with the upstanding citizens of Utila. Normality soon resumed when the tax man filled his pockets, and the party began again..

On our first weekend together we made a group trip down to the public beach and played an EPIC game of football with the local kids. Graham and Lisa played on the kids side and the rest of us made up a team of grown ups. I’d love to say we gave the game to the kids, or at least played fair but we spent the second half pushing and grabbing and Dan managed to catch the smallest boy in the head with the ball. He bounced back.. He tackled Graham (they were on the same team) and gave the ball to our side and we scored the winning goal. To celebrate we ended up in Skidrow for some top notch food and a few beers. Graham took on the Gifitti challenge to win Soph a Skidrow t-shirt. Giffiti is a local shot that’s poured extremely generously and is a tad bit lethal. With pride, and a fair amount of prodding from Graham, I can say he done it without even as much as a grimace.

Later that night a few of us ended up at a beach party at the other end of the island. After two bottles of insanely cheap rum (a litre of Bacardi Gold for £4!!) we danced our sweaty socks off til the early hours. Graham (more prodding) stayed at the station and polished off a bottle of vodka and had a party of his own. All of us were suffering on Sunday. But nothing a few hours in a hammock couldn’t cure.

We did actually do some work this week. We promise. A few people went on a trip to track iguanas, trekking through muddy swaps getting nice and dirty. The rest of us hung back doing the feeding and cleaning and helping out around the station. We all tried our hands at crabbing and collecting termites. Kirsten has made an enemy in Rosalitta, our psycho parrot who has a vendetta against women. We’ve decided she must hate blondes in particular. Graham, on the other hand, has found his new island girlfriend. He enjoyed some up close snuggling with Rosalitta in her cage until Kirsten came over and made her jealous. Graham got a peck on the cheek, and not one he appreciated. He says he became ‘a victim of a brutal and viscous assault on a beautiful and innocent young man.’ I’m chuckling whilst I’m typing.

Monday night Steve and Andrea patrolled Pumpkin beach looking for female turtles and protecting them from poachers. The season has begun. Tonight we’re having a BBQ to mark Dan’s last night at the station. More news will follow.


Claire & Graham

rain rain go away!

•June 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Seeing as I’m British the inevitable weather update is here. Torrential downpours for the last week. The iguanas (being cold-blooded) haven’t been active, they need the sun for energy and also to digest food.  They haven’t been eating so we haven’t been feeding them. A bit of a relief considering the quantity of alcohol consumed over the weekend (mostly by Richard…surprise surprise!)

The weather hasn’t however been keeping the visitors away and and I gave 6 or so tours last week.

In the words of my good friend Frank Turner; “It’s been quite a heavy weekend and I can just about remember where I’ve been”.  Friday night Richard, Sam and I went to skid row to try the gifitti challenge, unfortunately they’d run out of t-shirts and I certainly wasn’t going to down four shots of gifitti without some sort of reward at the end of it. We drank lots of cubalibres and went to Tranquila and drank more cubalibres. Bumped into the Americans from Common Tides and then went to Utila Lodge for late night kareoke where we sang The Spice Girls, The Kooks and R Kelly. Beaut. Our downfall was returning to Tranquila once they’d chucked everyone out of kareoke. We rooked it there….

We spent Saturday recovering on the beach, Sam and I had a go a paddle boating which is where you stand up on a surfboard-come-canoe and paddle your way along the calm waters surrounding the beach. Then I had a scuba tune up lesson (with a very handsome diving instructor) to revise the diving skills I’d learnt 2 years ago. We met with the Common Tides crew again for dinner at Main Street (which I wasn’t overly impressed with) then went to Tranquila again with all the best intentions of having a ‘quiet one’, well that ship sailed with my 4th cubalibre! I dropped my rucksack into the sea, ended up having to jump in after it to save my phone, ipod, money and speakers, spent the rest of the night soaked. Richard and I crawled home around 4 and spent all of Sunday feeling very worse for wear.

We welcomed a new volunteer, James, to the station yesterday. It was Sam and Richard’s last night so we all went out for a very civilised meal at La Picola, the Italian restaurant in town. We ate steak and got cracking on the vino tinto. Tranquila happened again. Andrea’s parents partied just as hard as all of the volunteers and we soon realised that we would not be returning to the station for a nice game of articulate as we’d originally planned! Sambucca after Sambucca we managed to get the whole bar dancing even and especially Andrea’s parents. Happy days. Richard got annihilated and poor James and I had to carry him home.

Today the sun has come out again (hurrah!) and Mr Osgood, James and I cycled to collect some crabs (to feed the adult swampers) from a spot near the private beach. En route to pumpkin hill we cycled through the jungle and Mr Osgood showed us a cave. We collected some bamboo from the beach by pumpkin hill. We will wire pieces of the hollow bamboo to the new juvenile cages so that they will have some shelter from the rain. I love it at pumkin hill, we saw lots of shaky-paws. They are brightly coloured lizzards about 15cm long, they’re really cool, bright green with turquoise and magenta and yellow bits all over them. They run around for a little while, then they stop abruptly and then they move their foreleg really really fast.

Steve and Andrea had a meeting about the turtles who nest on the beaches near pumpkin hill today. As of next week two volunteers will patrol the beach for two nights a week to try and protect the eggs from poachers but also to do the bio-metrics of them, measure them, monitor, tag them and track them. We will also be there during the day everyday of the week. I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve never seen a wild turtle! and I love it around pumpkin hill, it’s beautiful. We want to be able to have 24 hour surveillance on the beach so we’ve contacted the dive shops in search of more manpower.

Adios for now!

Rich kissed a girl, and he liked iiiit

•June 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well this week we have had a few farewells. On monday we said goodbye to the kittens : ( There was a polarised response to this. Helene who’s been like a mother to them was understandabley distraught, others saw their rehoming as a relief (kittens weeing on the table/bags/peoples t-shirts/pooing in the lab/flea ridden hammock/ hair and paw-prints all over the table/ allergies etc etc) . I had mixed emotions….I miss them, but as one of the only volunteers left at the station who had warmed to the kittens, I knew it would be down to me to feed them 5 times a day, play with them, keep an eye on them and change their pissy news paper. I loved the cats but it would have been a big responsibility, especially with them getting so adventurous. Their new owner is the guy from Skid Row; one of the bars in town. He seems keen on animals as he has two dogs and we’re confident they will be happier there.

We also waved goodbye to Maddie and Helene today. We had our farewell dinner at babalus. Richard was wasted within the hour and gushed about past volunteers and bitched about a snobby american woman. We took the party to tranquila as per and a merry time was had by all. We were all shocked to find Richard snogging some Canadian bird, but the less said about that the better (I know he’s reading this!)

‘Prison Break’ has become a big part of the lives of many of the volunteers and we huddle around the TV at most of our free hours of the day.

On Sunday we played monopoly…it got quite heated and to be honest I was glad to abandon the game for dinner and even gladder when we decided to put it away after dinner. (never would have won anyway… everyone else had all the f***ing property). We’ve eaten out quite a bit over the last few days as we’ve had no gas. Personally I’ve enjoyed reaping the benefits of Alka’s food services as the chicken burger she cooks is BUFF and at 20 lemps, you can’t beat them baleadas. Sam and I used the lack of gas as an excuse for a barbie…who knew termites nests made such good barbecue fuel?

In iguana news we’ve spent a lot of time making the old female cages hospitable for the juveniles so we can spread them out more. Now there are 15 iguanas per cage as opposed to 50. They were getting a bit fighty in their competition for food! There’s been lots of sewing new mesh over holes and adding extra staples over gappy pieces of mesh. We thought we’d got all the holes and so moved the iguanas in yesterday. However yesterday when I was having a butchers at the iguanas in their new homes I noticed an iguana on the wrong side of the cage, luckily I caught it, but a lot of time was spent working out which cage it had escaped from, trying to find a hole in said cage and then repairing yet more holes. All in all they seem to be happy and healthy in their new roomier abodes.

I’ve started teaching a street dance class to 10 of the kids from one of the local schools. The Visitors Centre has become a makeshift dance studio 3 mornings of the week. I’m loving it and the kids seem to be too. I’ m little worried about teaching the dance in just 2 weeks, but you know what they say:  ‘it will be alright on the night!’

Thats all for now. I’ve tried to be more descriptive in today’s blog as Steve said my last entry read like a shopping list!

wag wan at the iguana station

•May 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I had responsibility of the hummingbird feeder this week…I’m still excited about the fact we have hummingbirds here and was more than happy  to do the job.

The kittens are beginning to be a bit of a handful and are getting more adventurous everyday. We will be putting up posters to try and re-home them this week.

I gave my first three tours of the station on Friday.

Yesterday an american bloke dropped off an iguana here who’d been run over. It was a hybrid of a swamper and a highlander. Unfortunately it didn’t survive.

One of the juveniles temporarily escaped at this mornings feed, panic spread across the station. it was returned to its cage quicker than I could find my flipyfloppys.

Maddie and Helene returned from skid row last night looking  merry sporting new skid row t-shirts earnt through doing the gifitti challenge (4 shots of gifitti and you win a t-shirt)

Had very relaxing day at the beach yesterday and had a bit of a snorkel, saw lots and lots of parrot fish and a SWARM of piddily mini mini mini mini fishlets, there were BRAZILLIONS of them!

We all had a go at cutting Sam’s hair last night after his failure to find a barber that was open. I think it was a success….

I’ve chosen ‘My Generation’ by Damian Marley, Nas and Joss Stone as the song for the performance at the awareness festival. My first lesson didn’t go ahead unfortunately, the kids had been ‘dispatched'(?) fingers crossed for 3 lessons this week to make up for it!