About two dozen St. Croix residents learned at a presentation by Nicole Angeli, a Ph.D candidate at Texas A&M University, that the introduction of St. Croix ground lizards on Buck Island has been successful.
She said there were discussions with the managers of protected areas on St. Croix about the re-introduction of the native lizards there, but in an area where there were no mongoose or feral cats, which are their primary predators, but no site had been identified.
Angeli said 57 lizards were introduced on Buck Island in 2008, after 40 years of preparatory habitat restoration, including eliminating mongoose and feral cats on the island. The critically endangered St. Croix ground lizards now number about 1,500 on Buck Island Reef National Monument.
“The lizards appear to be in good health,” Angeli said with a wide smile. “They are breeding, so it means they are happy and healthy.”
Angeli told the residents in the Danish West India & Guinea CompanyWarehouse/Slave Market Building Thursday night that success did not come easy.
Invasive mongoose management began on Buck Island in the1960s and resulted in mongoose eradication by 2001, and starting in 2004 a program of invasive plant management has resulted in the control of invasive plants on over 80 percent of the island.
The lizard population has grown 24-fold, so that locally born lizards now use all of the habitats available on the island, according to Angeli.
She said the count is done by marking off 63 sites and then spending three days at each site walking around in concentric circles.
Angeli has gone beyond counting lizards on Buck Island and analyzing their preferred habitant.
She has a forthcoming children’s book she coauthored with Jennifer Keats called "Saving St. Croix Ground Lizards," which will be published by Arbordale Press in 2017.
According to a press release announcing the lecture, the St. Croix Ground Lizard project has been profiled locally and in academic outlets internationally.
“The work we do at the National Park means nothing unless it is shared with the public,” Angeli said.
She said the lizards, which are six to 10 centimeters, can be found on Green Cay, Ruth Island and Protestant Cay. The female is tan with a brown striped tail and the male is more colorful with blue sides and a brown tail.
“Their survival will continue depending on the environment, humans, animals and invasive plants,” Angeli said.
Angeli received a master’s of science in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development at the University of Maryland and her bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University. Her research integrates spatial modeling and animal physiology to understand why some species persist while others decline.
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