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August 16, 2012

LLU professor plays key role in new Bahamian iguana conservation facility

William K. Hayes, Ph.D., professor of earth and biological sciences at Loma Linda University, was asked to play a key role in establishing the San Salvador Iguana Conservation Centre in the Bahamas.

The new center is based at the Gerace Research Centre on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. Its primary purposes are to raise awareness of the highly endangered rock iguana--with an estimated population of about 500--and assist the wild population of iguanas through a breed-and-release program.

Dr. Hayes, who is also director of the LLU Center for Biodiversity, has been working with the endangered rock iguana in the Bahamas since 1993, making a number of trips to San Salvador through the years.

"I've been studying the endangered Bahamian rock iguana, Cyclura rileyi, in collaboration with Ron Carter," said Dr. Hayes. "There are eight additional rock iguana species in the Caribbean, all of which are highly endangered and protected by international law."

"Three of these species occur in the Bahamas, where they are also protected by Bahamian law."

Ron Carter, Ph.D., provost of Loma Linda University, has worked closely with Dr. Hayes since 1993. Their research has centered on observing the behaviors of the rock iguanas, as well as the environmental issues that threaten them.

"The demise of these lizards, the largest native terrestrial herbivores on the islands where they occur, can be attributed entirely to activities of man," Dr. Hayes said. "They are vulnerable especially to habitat destruction, as well as the introduction of feral predators and competitors."

The San Salvador Iguana Conservation Centre is being created through a collaboration of the organizations San Salvador Living Jewels, the Bahamas National Trust, and the Gerace Research Centre, with funding from California-based Seacology and FIBC First-Caribbean Bank.

Dr. Hayes served as a consultant for the center's facility and protocol development, as well as helping to find funds to support the project.

"On my recent trip to San Salvador, I found very few juvenile rock iguanas," Dr. Hayes said. "I hope the new center can impact their numbers and help to reverse their decline." He adds, "The entire disappearance of a species is permanent and represents a major failure on our part to protect our fellow creatures."

This story was originally published in the July 27, 2012, edition of Today.
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