Exuma Iguana Awareness

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Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas (Cyclura cychlura) endemic to the Exuma Islands of the Bahamas are an increasingly popular tourist attraction, enticing speed-boat based tour groups from nearby towns and cities to feed these accepting recipients. Leaf Cay in the Allen’s Cays, the most heavily visited island, now receives 100 or more visitors in a day and the iguanas have become accustomed to being fed. This has led to changes in their diet, behavior and physiology.

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Please help with the conservation of this species by learning more about these endangered lizards, and behaving responsibly when visiting them.

Exuma Iguana Visiting Etiquette

The jury is still out on official recommendations about visiting and feeding Rock Iguanas in the Exumas, but here are my personal recommendations based on current circumstances and what we know as of the moment:

  • Limit feeding activities to beaches where commercial operators are already visiting (Leaf Cay in the Allen’s Cays, for example)
  • Feed low-water content fruits and vegetables (ex. lettuce, broccoli, dates)
  • Try not to place food offerings in the sand – place items on the end of a stick or on rocks
  • Do NOT bring any pets, even well-behaved ones, onto iguana-inhabited islands
  • Be aware that iguanas interpret red as fruit and are likely to try biting brightly colored toenails

Background on the Iguanas

The Exuma Islands of the Bahamas are home to two endemic subspecies of Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas (Cyclura cychlura), members of one of the most charismatic and endangered lizard genera on the planet. The Allen Cay Rock Iguana (C. c. inornata) is native only to Leaf and Southwest Allen’s Cays in the Allen’s Cays grouping, just northwest of Highbourne Cay, and is IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) listed as endangered. The Exuma Island Rock Iguana (C. c. figginsi) is native to eight islands distributed between Staniel and Great Exuma Cays and is IUCN listed as critically endangered. Externally the two subspecies look virtually identical, as do males and females, though adult males attain a slightly larger maximum body size.

These lizards are the largest, natural land vertebrate in the Bahamas and are primarily vegetarian. Smaller-sized iguanas may frequently be seen foraging in trees, but larger adults spend most of their time on the ground. And unlike the more commonly known Green Iguana (Iguana iguana), who is highly arboreal and willfully spends time in the water, these iguanas swim only short distances when forced to. They can live 40 or more years and at least the females don’t reach sexual maturity until 12 years of age.

In the early to mid-1900’s these iguanas were particularly threatened by poaching, and for a time the Allen’s Cays subspecies was considered extinct. The passing of the Wild Animals Protection Act by the Bahamian government in the late 1960’s helped alleviate hunting pressures, as did increased visits from tourists, and the populations have rebounded since. With their recovered numbers, these iguanas are an increasingly popular tourist attraction with iguanas on some islands being visited and fed nearly every day of the year. It is unclear what the long-term impact of this food supplementation is, but demographic, behavioral, dietary and physiological differences between fed and non-fed populations have already been noted. It is important that we understand the implications of these changes in order to manage for the long-term survival of these unique iguanas.

If you would like to learn more, several relevant publications can be downloaded from my Articles page and below are some additional web resources.

Bahamas National Trust Bahamian Rock Iguana information

Dr. John Iverson’s research page

IUCN Red List information

IUCN-Iguana Specialist Group

International Iguana Foundation