Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unlucky lizards

The conservation status of the Northern Bahamian rock iguana (Cyclura cychlura) is vulnerable, but the less than 6,000 lizards that still survive in the wild are suffering from even more immediate problems. The hundreds of tourists who visit weekly are doing them a disservice by feeding them grapes, ground beef, and other foods which are normally not part of their herbivorous diet. In the long term, this threatens the iguana's population stability, but in the short term it is causing them diarrhea, high blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol levels. In a recently published study, Charles Knapp, director of conservation and research at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium, found that the animals being fed also have abnormal levels of calcium, glucose, potassium, copper, magnesium, and uric acid, and suffer from a high level of parasitic infections. Unlike the threats from habitat loss and illegal hunting, this one could be easily remedied and allow tourism to benefit the endangered animals. Knapp offers the following suggestion as an alternative to expecting visitors to stop feeding the iguanas: Instead, wildlife managers could approach manufacturers of pelleted iguana foods and request specially formulated food to mitigate the impact of unhealthy food. Tour operators could offer or sell such pellets to their clients, which would provide a more nutritionally balanced diet and reduce non-selective ingestion of sand on wet fruit.


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