Helicobacter Disease Threatens The Existence of the Blue Iguana

PRESS RELEASE, Grand Cayman, 7 July 2017

On May 5th, 2015, Blue Iguana Recovery Programme (BIRP) staff found a wild Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) displaying signs of lethargy within the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (QEIIBP). The Blue Iguana was identified as “obw” and taken to Island Veterinary Services (IVS) where she was tended to by Dr. Ioana Popescu. She died on the same day from septicaemia resulting from a spirochaete infection. Another wild Blue Iguana, “opy” – whose territory overlapped with that of “obw” – was found by BIRP staff on May 11th with similar symptoms. “opy” tested positive for spirochaetes, treated by Dr Popescu, and made a full recovery.

Approximately 15 more Blue Iguanas, both from the wild and captive populations at the QEIIBP, were found either unwell or deceased over the next 2 years. Unwell individuals were treated by Dr. Popescu and accompanying IVS staff in which several survived and made full recoveries. Necropsies performed on deceased individuals, by either veterinarians from St. Matthew’s University or Wildlife Conservation Society, did not reveal any pathognomonic signs. Other investigations isolated a novel Helicobacter spp from blood and faecal samples and revealed that it was linked to approximately half of the cases recorded.

Very little is known about this Helicobacter spp, but it is hypothesised that the invasive Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) population within the QEIIBP harbour and disseminate this novel pathogen to the Blue Iguanas. Dr. Popescu with The University of Edinburgh (UOE) will conduct a study to test this hypothesis. The study will involve the collection of faecal samples from Green Iguana populations throughout Grand Cayman, with particular emphasis placed on the QEIIBP population, and sending them to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to confirm or deny the presence of the Helicobacter spp through PCR testing.

If the hypothesis is supported by Dr. Popescu’s study, a greater understanding of the pathogen’s epidemiology will be established. This may in turn provide us with a disease model to follow, allowing us to better prevent and treat infected Blue Iguanas. The study can also be used as an essential framework to guide future conservation strategies for not only BIRP, but for our native Sister Isles Rock Iguana (Cyclura nubila caymanensis) and other native iguana species in countries that have the invasive Green Iguana. Furthermore, the study will both strengthen current and form new relationships with project partners including the University of Edinburgh, International Reptile Conservation Foundation (IRCF), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The National Trust for the Cayman Islands (NTCI), Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, and The Department of Environment of the Cayman Islands (DoE).

As a partner in the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, the IRCF has secured funding for the PCR testing in the amount of US$3,800.00. The funding originated from the pet loving folks who made significant donations towards iguana conservation during Ty Park’s IguanaFest held in May 2017. The IRCF, NTCI, DoE, MIT, and the UOE are grateful to all those who donated, which has provided the means to address this critical mission to once again help save the Blues and other iguanas that could be effected by this disease.

If you would like to contribute to this effort to help support emergency veterinary services for Blues found to be infected or to help support the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme you can make donations online at: www.IRCF.org/donate “Select “Blue Iguana Recovery Programme. Donors in Cayman can email:

[email protected] or visit our website at nationaltrust.org.ky”.

Download Helicobacter in Green Iguana Funding Project Proposal – CLICK HERE


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