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…a delighted to read

…outstanding photos

…a really good story, well-written

…a story worth reading

…a rare conservation success story

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Little Blue BookLewis, who was based at the Institute of Jamaica, shared his reptile records from the expedition with the zoologist Chapman Grant (grandson of the former US President Ulysses Grant), and in 1940 the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana was introduced to the scientific literature for the first time, in a monograph “Herpetology of the Cayman Islands.”

Lewis’ words say it all:
“The species is near-extinct, and I doubt that more than
a dozen individuals still exist on the island.”

Arthur C. Echternacht

Reviewed by: Arthur C. Echternacht

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

Fred Burton’s delightful and informative book, “The Little Blue Book: A Short History of the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana,” is both autobiographical and a biographical. As a biography, it introduces the reader to the life, or lives, of Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas, Cyclura lewisi, found only on Grand Cayman Islands and one of the most endangered reptiles in the world. As an autobiography, it documents Fred’s determined efforts to bring an iconic species back from the very brink of extinction.

Fred had not come to the Cayman Islands to save iguanas, but he was of the right mind set, having decided to turn down an opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree in order to get right out into the world and begin making a difference. A posting on a bulletin board at his university of a job with the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) on Grand Cayman caught his attention and, despite having to find an atlas to learn where the Cayman Islands were, he soon found himself there. He soon encountered the first Blue Iguana that he had ever seen, and the die was set. Neither Fred nor the iguana knew it at the time, but It was the absolutely the best thing that could have happened for the iguanas, and possibly for Fred as well.

After a brief introduction, the book begins by describing the environment of Grand Cayman just before humans began to take notice of the Cayman Islands. This is followed by accounts of the events, mostly associated with the establishment of a permanent human population on Grand Cayman, that eventually led to disaster for the iguanas and several other species, both plant and animal, and of the field surveys that confirmed the endangered status of the Blue Iguana. The remaining chapters describe the history of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme which Fred established to save the species from extinction, interspersed with accounts of various aspects of the natural history of the species. The former began with the establishment of a small breeding colony of iguanas behind the MRCU headquarters and the hospital in George Town and expanded to include a much larger breeding and head-starting facility at Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park, the releases of captive-bred animals in the Park, the success of these releases as released iguanas successfully bred in the Park, the identification and establishment of the Salinas Reserve, a relatively undisturbed home for the products of the wildly successful captive breeding program at the Botanic Park, and the first releases there. The natural history studies were essential in order to understand what would be required by way of space, refuges, and diet if a sustainable population of the iguanas were to become a reality.

Throughout, Fred is generous in identifying the many individuals and organizations that have helped to make the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme a success. One has to almost read between the lines to realize the magnitude Fred’s own role in that success. No arm-chair biologist, Fred has been the driving force behind it all. As the excerpts from his field notes that are scattered through the text attest, he has spent more time in the field observing Blue Iguanas than anyone else and he is the source of the majority of natural history observations detailed in the text.

All-in-all, this book is a delight to read. Books on similar topics tend either to be written by scientists for scientists and are often a bit dense for the uninitiated, or written by individuals whose knowledge of the topic is based mainly on interviews and which often don’t reflect the successes and failures associated with successful conservation programs. Fred’s book is very well written, and it is highly personal. He documents the successes, of course, but also the false starts and disappointments. Almost every page is illustrated by outstanding photographs of the iguanas, the people who have contributed to the project, and the places where it all took place. They alone are worth the price of the book. Having read it, you will feel that you were there, even if you have never been able to visit Grand Cayman and see it’s magnificent iguanas.

So … who is the audience for this book. It seems to me that it documents a model recovery program for an endangered species, albeit one based in a country that, as the text makes clear, largely supports the conservation of its natural heritage. It highlights to importance of involving all of the stakeholders, and of the huge effort necessary to find the funding necessary to be successful. For these reasons, it ought to be required reading for those who are thinking about conservation biology as a career. Biologists interested in the natural history of iguanas will also find it informative, since little information on the biology of Blue Iguanas has yet been published in the scientific literature. Finally, the writing style makes the book easily accessible to non-biologists, to anyone who enjoys nature and a really good story well-written.

Disclaimer: I am not a neutral reviewer but, I think, an honest one. I first met the iguanas of the Cayman Islands during a brief visit to at about the time that the first breeding colony of Blue Iguanas was established, and I met Fred soon thereafter. My graduate students (mostly) and I almost immediately became involved in Fred’s efforts to save the Blue Iguana. It has been a delight to have been involved in those efforts. The work, however, goes on. Read the book, contact Fred, go to Grand Cayman, get involved!

Reviewed by: Arthur C. Echternacht Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

AJ Gutman

Reviewed by: AJ Gutman

It takes an island to save a species — along with a very determined champion and a lot of help from off-island friends. Fred Burton’s Little Blue Book recounts a rare conservation success story of bravery and dedication and the rescue of a remarkable animal species whose very existence had vanished into myth. The charismatic Blue Iguana of Grand Cayman Island was already scarce and nearly forgotten before scientists had even given the species a name.

The story takes the author from an initial fascinating encounter with a single giant blue reptile to the realization that this individual might very well be one of the last of his kind. In a race against time, we are told how the last remaining Blue Iguanas, fewer than twenty animals scattered in private collections across the US or illegally held in captivity on Grand Cayman, are brought together for captive breeding in an attempt to stave off extinction.

Challenge after challenge is faced and overcome in the struggle to keep these astonishing reptiles from disappearing forever. Not only did they need help to breed in captivity, but the newly hatched young also had to be fed, housed, and cared for as they grew to a safe size for release back to the wild. Even finding and protecting enough “wild” that approximated their original habitat proved to be a major obstacle.

Award-winning conservationist Fred Burton tells this very personal story in an engaging anecdotal style, interspersed with accounts of the iguanas’ life details as they grow from nervous juveniles fresh from the egg to regal adults with an overwhelming will to survive and perpetuate the species.

The book is richly illustrated with photographs that tell stories of tragedy and triumph of their own. Meet Pharaoh, Sara, Daniel, and the other precious “founder” animals as they inspire the love and dedication of the people of their native island, and around the world in a battle to save their kind from the finality of extinction.

Reviewed by: AJ Gutman

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