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Tourists Feeding Causing Ill Health To Already-Endangered Iguanas

Update Date: Dec 07, 2013 05:19 PM EST
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Feeding wildlife by tourists is one of the most common activity. But the activity is causing physiological problems to already-imperilled iguanas, a new study finds.

Researchers compared the differences in physiological values and endoparasitic infection rates between norther Bahamian rock iguanas that inhibited tourist visited island and those inhibiting non-tourist-visited islands.

They took blood and faecal samples from both male as well as female iguanas in two terms, 2010 and 2012.

The Bahamian rock iguanas are among the world’s most endangered lizards because of their constant habitat loss and illegal hunting. They are also listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In the research it was found that the two groups of iguanas did not differ in body condition but indicators for dietary nutrition differed. Iguanas from the islands of frequently visited by tourists showed notably different levels of glucose, uric acid and potassium. Difference in the levels of calcium, cholesterol, cobalt, copper, magnesium, packed cell volume, selenium, and triglycide concentrations was also noticed in the male iguanas of tourist areas.

Significant difference in the ionized calcium was also noted from female iguanas from tourist areas.

“Both sexes on visited islands consume food distributed by tourists, although male iguanas are more aggressive when feeding and eat more provisioned food. Consequently, they may be more impacted by provisioning with unnatural foods, which could explain the greater suite of significant physiological differences in males between populations,” said Charles Knapp, PhD, of the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago in a press release.

On a daily basis iguanas were fed grapes by tourists which was provided by tour operators. This might be the reason of increased concentration of glucose.

“The complete restriction of feeding by tourists may not be a realistic option. Instead, wildlife managers could approach manufacturers of pelleted iguana foods and request specially-formulated food to mitigate the impact of unhealthy food. Tour operators could offer or sell such pellets to their clients, which would provide a more nutritionally balanced diet and reduce non-selective ingestion of sand on wet fruit,” added Dr Knapp.

The developments of the study is published online in the journal of Conservation Physiology.

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