TCI News

Rats massacred! Rock Iguanas getting safer habitats after delays due to hurricanes

#LittleWaterCay, Turks and Caicos Islands, Thursday April 26, 2018 – A unique alliance between the UK and the TCI has led to the execution of thousands of rats, and hopefully the annihilation of thousands more as work is resumed to save the endemic Rock Iguana.

“Iguana Island is still covered in Black Rats.”

The comment came in a media debriefing last month from International Species Recovery Officer, Sara Havery of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Sara, was speaking to Turks and Caicos media about the delay brought on by the active storm season and damages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and she was explaining why the Black Rat (which is actually brown in colour) is a major menace.

“They actually eat the eggs of the iguanas and the juveniles hat means there is little recruitment to the actual population here, which is not just bad for the ecology of the island but also for tourism.”  

While total eradication is the ultimate goal, Sara explained that for now the focus is on rat control.

“We have a grid right across this (Little) Water Cay and every 25-metres we’ve put out a bait station which has rodenticide in it. So the whole point of this is the knock back the rat population give the iguanas the chance to hatch out their eggs, grow a bit bigger and hopefully be big enough to get out of the way of the rats as their (iguanas) population increases.”

The National Trust and Ministry of Tourism embraced the assistance at the onset and there has been staff training, so that the project has resident foot soldiers from among stakeholder agencies.  

“We had representatives from the Turks and Caicos National Trust, DECR and the Department of Agriculture here on Little Water Cay, and my colleague, Karen Varnum did a bio-security training course here to gain an overview of the impact of the rats here and also showed what we can do across the island including some monitoring techniques to determine if rats are still present; we found that they were everywhere.”

The rats scurry over in staggering numbers when there are low tides and will even swim to the cay, which is home to one of the largest populations of the Rock Iguana in the country.

Cats also continue to be a threat to the species, with scores of them terrorizing the iguanas to death.

Dr. Dellareese Higgs, Education and Public Awareness Manager with the National Trust gave an update on how the rat-trapping has progressed.

“It was thousands of rats have been trapped and killed since then…”  

In March, media was given a tour on Little Water Cay and allowed to see what the trapping process looked like.  We also learned that the rodenticide is an environmentally friendly method and the traps, though attractive to a few crabs, are generally more appealing to their intended victims – the Black Rat.

DECR representative Bryan Naqqi-Manco assured that the iguana death-toll due to the September 2017 hurricanes would have been minimal.

“Iguanas can go without food and water for weeks if they need to, and washing up on another island is not unheard of for them.  As long as it’s more than one they can start a new population. So they are an incredibly resilient… they are very tough animals.”

Naqqi-Manco shared that there is an estimated 50,000 Rock Iguanas in the Turks and Caicos Islands, outnumbering the indigenous human population by far.   

The Turks and Caicos Rock Iguana is the only one of its kind in the world, save for a few of the reptiles which live on a cay, just off Mayaguana island in The Bahamas.

Sara Havery added that, a conservation plan is also underway, as other cays within the Turks and Caicos are scoured and studied by their group which includes the San Diego Zoo, as ideal, potential new and safe habitats for the TCI Rock Iguana.


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