Blue iguanas (Cyclura lewisi) are one of the rarest lizard species. In 2005, fewer than two dozen survived on their tiny native island in the Caribbean, dodging cars, predators like cats and dogs, and the bulldozer as their habitats were developed. Since then, about 350 blue iguanas bred by the Blue Iguana Recovery Program (BIRP) on Grand Cayman have been released into reserves on the island to reinforce the wild population. BIRP also established a second population in the United States, distributed among 13 aquariums and zoos including Shedd, as a hedge against extinction.
These lizards are part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP), a carefully managed breeding program under the auspices of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Marley was originally paired with Eleanor in Shedd’s 1,200-square-foot tropical island habitat. Each spring, aquarists—and the public—saw energetic mating behavior, but no eggs. After Eleanor’s death earlier this year, SSP managers decided to move Marley to Indianapolis’ successful breeding group.
While we’ll miss magnificent Ol’ Blue Head and his bobbin’ noggin territorial displays, we are excited about Marley’s potential for his species. Marley is the offspring of two of the BIRP colony’s founding animals, and the only lizard alive with that genetic combination. His father was released into the wild, and his mother and a full sister were killed by vandals who broke into the breeding facility on Grand Cayman in 2008. So Marley has an important job to do: Bring new genetic robustness to the North American blue iguana population and, in due time, the wild one.
Shedd's Grand Cayman habitat won’t be lizardless for long, either. New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo, another SSP member, is sending us blue iguana Bob. He’ll be welcomed with open arms, and maybe a hibiscus lei.
--Karen Furnweger, web editor