October 29, 2020

Brevard Zoo unveils [Grand Cayman] blue iguana enclosure


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bildeBy Rick Neale From FLORIDA TODAY

VIERA — Resembling a miniature dragon, “Lola” clambered across her new enclosure toward a blue dish of banana slices, blueberries and prickly pear cactus fruit, her long claws and leathery tail scooting over rocks and dirt.

Reaching the dish, the scaly 3-foot-long reptile began gobbling banana slices one by one, chomping her jaws like a four-legged Godzilla.

This weekend, Brevard Zoo officials introduced Lola to the public as the inaugural inhabitant of a new Grand Cayman blue iguana exhibit. She arrived at the zoo in April from Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, awaiting construction of her 30-foot-wide glass-walled pen.

“She’s very feisty and has lots of personality,” said Amy Reaume, Brevard Zoo conservation coordinator.

By the upcoming weekend, two smaller male blue iguanas should join Lola in an adjacent “nursery” enclosure. These lizards originated from zoos in Sanford and San Diego.

Then, shortly after the new year begins, a female from the San Diego Zoo will complete the quartet. Conservationists across the Caribbean hope that these Space Coast reptiles will reproduce, bolstering a breeding program aimed at saving the endangered species.

bilde-1The blue iguana is the largest native land animal on Grand Cayman. Habitat destruction, car collisions, and predation by dogs, cats and rats reduced the wild population to a paltry 10 to 25 survivors by 2002, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program reported.

Thanks to captive breeding and releases into wilderness preserves, biologists have boosted the wild population to about 750 blue iguanas, BIRP reported. Last fall, the International Union for Conservation of Nature switched the species listing from “critically endangered” to “endangered.”

Other Brevard Zoo endangered breeding-program inhabitants include the Visayan warty pig, red wolf and Perdido Key beach mouse.

Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten is a board member of the International Iguana Foundation, which strives to save native iguanas on an island-by-island basis

The Grand Cayman blue iguana exhibit anchors a new “Treasures of the Caribbean” trail that will eventually feature three or four rare island species, such as the green- and red-feathered Cuban Amazon parrot.

Treasures of the Caribbean was the brainchild of Charlie Mills, assistant director of facilities and a 17-year zoo veteran. He envisioned adding exhibits along a small unused peninsula near the South American La Selba loop entrance.

Winsten estimated the blue iguana enclosure and accompanying walkway cost about $20,000. Twin $5,000 donations from the Community Foundation for Brevard and Suzanne C. Bassett Foundation made the project possible, he said.

Blue iguana facts

» Species: Grand Cayman blue iguana

» Length: 5+ feet

» Weight: More than 25 pounds

» Status: Endangered

Source: Blue Iguana Recovery Programme

PHOTOS: “Lola,” a 4-year-old Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, now resides in the all new Treasures of the Caribbean Trail exhibit at the Brevard Zoo in Viera.

‘Lola,’ a 4-year-old Grand Cayman blue iguana, now resides in the all new ‘Treasures of the Caribbean Trail’ exhibit at the Brevard Zoo in Viera. She could grow to 25 pounds and 5 feet long, and could live to be 60. She will soon be joined by more of her breed. / Tim Shortt/FLORIDA TODAY

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