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WHY PROTECTION IS NEEDED FOR ROCK IGUANAS IN THE BAHAMAS

The repatriation of 11 rock iguanas to the Bahamas has brought to light the importance of protecting this local creature.

The Bahamian rock iguana is essentially a large lizard that is typically some shade of brown. Most of these reptiles are two and a half to three feet long and can be found on various islands throughout the Bahamas.

The Bahamian rock iguana is important to Bahamian culture and it is easily linked to the country’s number one industry: tourism. Wildlife tourism is a growing industry, as visitors increasingly seek an authentic experience.

While many people travel to the picturesque islands for the stunning white sandy beaches, breathtaking turquoise waters and relaxing atmosphere, the wildlife that can be found throughout the Bahamas also makes for a great tourist attraction.

The need to educate about dangers to the rock iguana and other Bahamian wildlife is becoming increasingly necessary.

With only a few hundred rock iguana species left, it is no wonder why officials are calling for their protection. Without raising awareness about illegal wildlife trade and the rock iguana itself, it is safe to say these beautiful creatures will suffer.

THE SCOOP ON THE ROCK IGUANA

Back in February 2014, two Russian women smuggled 11 iguanas through Heathrow Airport in London. Once arriving in their final destination of France, they attempted to sell the creatures for a remarkable price tag of $35,000 each. The women would eventually be caught and jailed. Not only did the incident shock Bahamians, but it also gained international attention and has since then propelled the need for education about the rock iguana.

Bahamas tourism officials are trying to advance the islands as a whole through wildlife tourism, and the rock iguana is a huge draw. They are hoping people will want to travel to the Bahamas to catch a glimpse of these iguanas in their natural habitat. If people like the Russian smugglers get away with taking them and selling them, this incident could have a ripple effect both for the rock iguanas and other fragile specifies in the Bahamas.

MORE ABOUT THE BAHAMIAN ROCK IGUANA

There are three species and seven subspecies of the Bahamian rock iguana, some of which are named after the cay in which they inhabit. Rock iguanas are more commonly found on Exuma, Andros, White Cay and Allen’s Cay, to name a few. In addition to the threat of humans removing them from their natural habitat, rock iguanas must also avoid wild hogs on Andros, feral cats and dogs and the unfortunate desires of man to hunt them for food.

As a result, rock iguanas typically stick to small, isolated islands where these threats are less prevalent. Rock iguanas were eaten by early inhabitants of the Bahamas, an act that is illegal today. The largest rock iguana in the Bahamas is the Andros rock iguana, a subspecies that can grow to six feet in length!

Understanding what makes these stunning creatures so special and important to Bahamian culture is the first step in learning why there are such strong efforts to protect them.

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