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Blue Dragons

Co-sponsored by the Botanic Park and the National Trust, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program (www.blueiguana.ky) is a model captive breeding plan for the remarkable reptiles that only two decades ago faced total extinction. The Grand Cayman blue iguana lived on the island for millennia until man arrived, its only natural predator the racer snake. Until recently they were the world's most critically endangered species, functionally extinct with only 25 remaining in the wild. BIRP has released more than 200 into the Salina Reserve, with an ultimate repopulation goal of 1,000 if they can breed successfully in the wild.

The National Trust conducts safaris six mornings a week, giving you a chance to see hatchlings in the cages, camouflaged toddlers, and breeding-age adults like Mad Max and Blue Blue. Most of the iguanas raised here are released at two years by the Wildlife Conservation Society with a microchip implant tag for radio tracking and color-coded beading ("their navel rings," jokes a guide) for unique identification. Tones fluctuate according to lighting and season, brightening to azure during the April–May breeding period. Guides explain the gestation and incubation periods and the pairing of potential mates ("some are too dominant, and we don't want inbreeding like Appalachian hillbillies, leading to potential mutations or sterility").

If you can't make it to the park, look for the 15 larger-than-life, one-of-a-kind outdoor sculptures commissioned from local artists scattered around the island. You can download maps of the Blue Dragon Trail from the BIRP, National Trust, and Botanic Park sites. Many hotels also stock leaflets with maps and fun facts (the iguanas live up to 70 years, grow to 6 feet in length, and weigh 25 pounds). You can even purchase custom blue iguana products (helping fund research), such as Joel Friesch's limited-edition hand-painted bobbleheads (blues bob their heads rapidly as a territorial warning) packaged in a bright yellow hard cardboard box. You can also volunteer for a working vacation (or longer fieldwork study stint) online.

Updated: 2013-12-16

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