January 23, 2022

Cayman Islands continues investigations of Helicobacter Disease in Blue Iguanas

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On May 5th, 2015, Blue Iguana Recovery Programme (BIRP) staff found a wild Blue Iguana displaying signs of lethargy within the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (QEIIBP). The iguana was taken to Island Veterinary Services (IVS) where she was tended to by Dr. Ioana Popescu. She died on the same day from blood poisoning resulting from a bacterial infection. Another wild Blue; whose territory overlapped with the first, was found by BIRP staff on May 11th with similar symptoms. He also tested positive for the presence of an unusual bacterium, but made a full recovery following treatment by Dr Popescu.
Approximately 15 more Blues, both from the wild and captive populations at the QEIIBP Botanic Park, were found either unwell or dead over the next 2 years. Unwell individuals were treated by Dr. Popescu and other IVS staff and several survived and made full recoveries. Examinations performed on dead individuals by veterinarians from St. Matthew’s University and the Wildlife Conservation Society did not reveal any signs of disease. Other investigations isolated a novel Helicobacter bacteria from blood and faecal samples linked to approximately half of the cases. Because of this prevalence, and with other possibilities ruled out, it is now suspected as the cause of the deaths in the Blue Iguanas.
Through strict quarantine, biosecurity, and monitoring protocols, the Blue Iguanas within the QEIIBP appear to have been disease free for over 6 months. However, still very little is known about the Helicobacter bacteria. If the disease can be transmitted by the Green Iguana, that population could could function as a reservoir for the infection, passing it on to Blue Iguanas at the Botanic Park and other parts of Grand Cayman, or even to the Sister Islands Rock Iguanas of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Dr. Popescu with the University of Edinburgh (UOE) will conduct a study to test this hypothesis.
The study will involve the collection of faecal samples from Green Iguana populations, both within the Botanic Park and throughout Grand Cayman.
The samples will be sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for examination for the possible presence of the Helicobacter bacteria.
If the results of the study support the hypothesis, it should provide a greater understanding of how the bacteria is distributed and spread. It is expected that this information will assist in the prevention and treatment of further infections among the Blues. Results of the study may also be useful in guiding future conservation strategies, not only for the Blues, but also for the Sister Islands Rock Iguana and other native iguana populations in countries with invasive Green Iguanas. Furthermore, the study will strengthen relationships with project partners including the University of Edinburgh, International Reptile Conservation Foundation (IRCF), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands (NTCI), Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, and the Department of Environment of the Cayman Islands (DoE).
As a BIRP partner, the IRCF has already secured funding of US$3,800 for the laboratory testing of collected samples. This comes from donations made by iguana lovers during IguanaFest, an event held at TY Park, Florida in May 2017. The project partners are grateful to the donors for providing the funds needed to once again help save the Blues and other iguanas that could be impacted by this disease.
If you would like to contribute to emergency veterinary services for infected Blues, or to help support the BIRP cause, you can make donations online at: www.IRCF.org/donate and select “Blue Iguana Recovery Programme”. Donors in Cayman can make a donation at any of these four locations throughout the month of September: Beyond Basics Medical Spa, Touch of Thai, The Salon La Femme and Renaissance Salon & Spa. Clearly identified donation boxes will be displayed at the reception area of each location. Give a gift of $20 or more and automatically become a Trust member. Visit our website at nationaltrust.org.ky for any further information.


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