Many Jamaicans know the story of the miraculous rediscovery of the Jamaican Iguana in 1990. Edwin Duffus was hunting with dogs in the area known as Hellshire Hills when he stumbled upon an iguana previously believed to be extinct and quickly carried it to The Hope Zoo. The rest is history.
Since that fateful day, the Jamaican iguana species has been thriving, mainly due to the efforts of the Jamaican Iguana Head Start Facility at The Hope Zoo. In April of this year, we visited the facility to observe, the annual screenings of the species which was done in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
General Curator of the Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation, Mr. Joey Brown took us on the tour of the facility that houses roughly 500 Jamaican iguanas of varying ages and through the screening process.
THE SCREENING PROCESS
The screening begins with the weighing of the reptiles and then their measurements are taken from the tip of the snout to the cloaca and from the cloaca to the end of their tail. Afterwards, their sex is determined, and
between 1.5 and 2 millilitres of blood are drawn and tested for packed cell volumes, total proteins, white blood cell count, and red blood cell count. Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Kate McLade explained that the white and red blood cell count had to be done manually “because reptiles have an issue where we can’t use an automated machine" Blood serum and platelets are then separated and shipped off to the United States to be tested for chemistries and nutritional values. To finish the screening, a complete body exam is done, looking at all limbs and the mouth and scanning for any masses in the body. Females are also given ultrasounds to see if any follicles or eggs are developing.
Every Iguana that comes through the Head Start Facility is then implanted with a microchip that when scanned comes up with a unique identification number that houses the year on year information about that particular iguana. This microchip will stay with the iguana for the duration of its life.
Eventually, the iguanas at the Head Start Facility are released into the wild. Joey Brown shared that this release happens “Typically around four to five years, once the iguanas are around 1000 grams in weight. They’re much stronger and faster, and they can survive around these invasive species such as the mongoose and the cat”.
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