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Posted By Robin & Jim

We anchored just south of Staniel at Bitter Guana Cay - a small island inhabited only by iguanas and birds.  We went ashore to explore a cave and hike around, and we met a couple camping there - they are from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium studying the protected iguanas. 

chuck and sylvia

Dr. Charles Knapp is the iguana expert and his lovely wife Sylvia (a Ph.D. candidate working on a rainforest study) were so kind to us, sharing lots of information about their work, the negative impacts of tourists feeding the iguanas, the rarity of this particular species, etc.  They let us watch as they "processed" an iguana for study, showing us how they insert a tiny RFID chip, take a small blood sample, weigh and measure them, paint a number on their sides with White-Out, and release them. 

iguana exam

They even let us release one of the bigger ones!

iguana 50

Over the next few days we saw them and talked with them, and almost had to come to their rescue when a local tourist boat captain accosted them, threatened them, and tried to take some of their equipment.  They have all the proper permits for their work - Chuck has been coming to this island for over 12 years to study this population, but the tour operator was apparently upset only about the numbers painted on the sides of the iguanas.  It spoiled his tourist's pictures!  He was quick to refer to his operation as "eco tourism", but he continued to feed the iguanas despite signs to the contrary, and Chuck and Sylvia's polite requests.

A few days later Shedd Aquarium's research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II anchored nearby with a group of volunteers for another session of iguana-catching and we were invited to join the fun.  The iguanas are smart and they head for the thick brush or into the rocky cliffs, and we lost many more than we caught but it was a very fun adventure.  I think the ones with numbers told the un-numbered ones what was going on so they were wise to our tricks!  We got a lovely tour of the Aquarium's research ship, and we reciprocated with a tour of our "little ship" for the two captains.  What absolutely wonderful people - the researchers, the volunteers, and the captains and cook!!!  This has been the highlight of our trip.
Between us we caught three and a half iguanas (the half was an assist).  All this was done wearing big floppy sun hats, long sleeves (it's an all-day affair), long pants, boots, and heavy leather work gloves to keep from getting scratched or bitten.  We both bled a little in the name of science, but that was from the vegetation and not from the speedy iguanas.

hunter jim

We can't give enough thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Shedd Aquarium for such kind treatment, friendship, and fun.

sylvia iguana

 
1 Comment(s):
Spaf said...
That sounds so cool! You seem to be having great adventures. If you get to dry land and up this way, the Shedd is only 2 hours drive from here. It is a great place to visit.
May 29, 2010 10:33 AM
 
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