Monday, January 18, 2010

Qamea Villagers call for Iquana Investigation - Sunday, January 17, 2010

THE headman of Naiviivi Village on Qamea Island, Jeri Surumi is calling for the arrest of an American citizen. He is the man believed to have released an undisclosed amount of baby iguanas around his estate at Yaroi on Qamea Island, which is across the bay from Naiviivi Village.

Mr Surumi claims the reptiles were smuggled into the country with two tortoises by the expat after one of his trips abroad in 1999. But the primary concern of the villagers, he said, was the livelihood of their children who frequent the mangrove areas which are now infested by the green iguana. "We are a group of people who rely a lot on the ocean and our children move freely without any threats," he said.

Now, he said, they hardly go out to the coastal areas even where these huge iguanas live.

"There would be the unknown damage a foreign reptile could do to our natural surroundings and resources which we were told by a visiting party from the environment department, were unknown at this stage," Mr Surumi said.

At first villagers assumed the iguana's natural habitat was along the coastal areas, he said, but these areas are now empty and the iguanas are now moving inland. A few, he said, have been seen digging holes in plantations. Along the bay, trees which are believed to be the reptile's natural breeding place are now standing bare of leaves.

"It eats the young leaves," Mr Surumi said. Not only have they moved to the trees but they are now in the mangrove areas also where women have seen them in numbers.

The most disturbing thing, he said, was that people fear the worst when encountering a reptile that is bigger than any iguana in Fiji.

"Moreover we are told that it is still growing and the sizes we see now are those still in their infant years," he said.

He said the village is missing out on lots of its sea delicacies as fear grips the village women who hardly go out to sea now. "There are mixed emotions in the village," he said.

They are the reasons he is urging the government to do something.

Terrestrial iguanas thrive on Qamea Island

Jone Luvenitoga - Sunday, January 17, 2010

The alien reptile discovered on Qamea Island is not a marine iguana as reported in the media, but it is the biggest species among terrestrial iguanas. It is commonly known as the green iguana and it survives in tropical forests similar to the country of its origin, in South America. It is also known to lay eggs in the ground.

This was confirmed by Curator-South Pacific Regional Herbarium Marika Tuiwawa.

A 13-page report, prepared by a team of USP conservation researches who recently visited the island, stated there are two known threats green iguanas pose to human lives. "The first is there are reported cases of the green iguana becoming aggressive and attacking humans the moment they lose their fear of humans," Mr Tuinawawa said. Like any other wild animal that is attracted to human food, he said continuous interaction with humans when frequently fed will annul that fear and it will become abundant. "They tend to get aggressive and there are reported cases of green iguanas which can grow up to almost two metres in length chasing people from their eating tables in open cafeterias, for food," he said. People he said are bitten, scratched and injured in those incidents.

The second threat is a plague that can be spread by free roaming iguanas. Reports mention that 'free roaming iguanas mean free roaming salmonella bacteria which should be avoided at all cost'.

According to the Wikipedia World Wide Encyclopedia, salmonellosis is an infection with a bacteria called salmonella. People infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that takes effect in the bodies of human beings within 12 to 72 hours after infection. "But that cannot be taken for granted because different types of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever or abdominal cramps, therefore all diseases such as these cannot be all connected to salmonella bacteria unless proven through laboratory tests," he said.

The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalised. In these patients, the salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other parts of the body and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness. It lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds and are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs. Only vegetables that come into contact with reptile or bird feces carrying the salmonella bacteria can become contaminated.

Thorough cooking kills salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella bacteria. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy. Adults should also ensure that children wash their hands after handling a reptile or bird, or after touching its environment.

The reports were also presented with recommendations such as;

* Fiji Government (Quarantine Section, MAFF and DOE) should contact the man who is believed to have brought in the reptiles and establish how they were brought in and carry out legal action if needed;

* An awareness program targeted for the people of Qamea, Laucala, Matagi, Taveuni and eastern Vanua Levu (Natewa Bay and Buca Bay, Rabi and Kioa) about this new species with an emphasis on what locals need to know about the species, how to handle it, and on how they can help in eradicating or controlling the iguana;

* A follow-on survey on Qamea, Laucala and Matagi is recommended to estimate the population and map out their distribution;

* The issue of whether and how to eradicate or control this species so it does not spread to other parts of Fiji, needs to be discussed by the relevant authorities. This needs to be carried out as soon as possble;

* A baseline biodiversity survey on Qamea, Laucala and Matagi Island, should be conducted and a monitoring program be designed to study the effects of this species on the native biodiversity in the long term;

* Whether the species is present on Taveuni Island, Kioa, Rabi Island, northern Vanua Levu and other nearby islands, needs to be established.

The green iguana are able to reproduce after a period of three years where they can lay up to 45 eggs in a clutch. They are good swimmers which could be the reason for the extent of their sightings from the main island of Qamea to neighbouring Matagi and Laucala.

Rumours suggesting the green iguana's new taste for blood, eating fish and crabs, he said needs to be clearly checked.

"If it's any consolation, the green iguana is a known herbovire and at times feeds only on small insects and gastropods such as snails and slugs."

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