Island Conservation science cabritos island dominican republic

Disappearing Cows? Sometimes We Just Get Lucky!

Notes from the Field; Cabritos Edition 2015. Part 3.

Our Cabritos Island Restoration Project story takes an interesting twist with a mystery of disappearing cows. We’ve followed Wes and his team of “flying dogs” to the island, and now it’s time to tune back into his story.

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Disappearing Cows? Sometimes We Just Get Lucky!

Part Three; November 1, 2015
By Wes Jolley

We’ve just passed the half-way point of our current adventure. Yimell Corona, one of our stellar team members, arrived to the island this morning and I’m stoked to get another skilled set of eyes out on the island.

Island Conservation science cabritos island dominican republic staff

Yimell Corona searching for feral cat tracks on the south side of Cabritos Island.

One of the threats on Cabritos Island are invasive feral cows. Besides damaging the island’s natural ecosystem by overgrazing the flora around the island, the cows often trample the nests of the Endangered Rock Iguanas we’re trying to protect here. We had previously thought that removing cows from Cabritos was not feasible within the budgetary, capacity, and logistical constraints of our current project. However, it looks like we might have been wrong.

Island Conservation science cabritos island dominican republic staff

Large sandy areas are excellent for detecting tracks, but the open terrain makes it difficult to predict how invasive species will move.

It’s not clear what happened, but it seems the cow population decreased significantly without our help, and that the last individual may have been removed in August. It is possible that we overestimated the population in 2013, but that can’t explain everything. Other possibilities include some harvesting by locals or disease. We have found some cows that appear to have perished in the past couple years. My theory is that the cows may have been reliant on the dwindling population of invasive feral burros for water.

Island Conservation science cabritos island dominican republic staff

The band of white on this vegetation shows the level of the lake only 18 months ago.

The burros used to dig holes near the shore that filled with water that was cleaner and slightly less salty than the brackish water of Lake Enriquillo. As we’ve reduced the burros, we seem to have removed this behavior from the population’s knowledge pool back in 2013 (i.e. the animals left on island didn’t know how to do it). It’s possible (e.g. it’s my hair-brained theory) the cows relied on this water. The lack of holes may have led to a slow decline in the cow population, which really took a toll this year in the hot months. Also, the lake level is decreasing, which means the water is getting saltier. Whatever happened, we haven’t seen a sign of a cow since we’ve been here, and we are reminded what a dynamic and unique place this really is.  However, we have to do our due diligence before we can confirm the absence of cows. We will continue searches for signs of cows and maintain a network of camera traps to collect sufficient data to know for sure the status of the cow population. But, for now I’m happy to see that the impacts of this damaging invasive species has been greatly reduced, if not eliminated on Cabritos Island!

Island Conservation science cabritos island dominican republic ricords iguana

The front legs of this Ricord’s Iguana are particularly vibrant. It likely just shed its old skin.


 Join our Campaign to Save Cabritos Iguanas

Our goal is to raise $22,000 by February 1, 2016 to save the Critically Endangered Ricord’s Iguana and Vulnerable Rhinoceros Iguana. By continuing removal of invasive species from Cabritos Island. This funding will be put directly on the ground to purchase supplies and feed our Dominican field team as they battle the scorching temperatures, avoid the crocodiles, and remove invasive species—all to save these wondrous and wild iguanas who, without your help, could be lost forever. Over the next several months we’ll be reaching out to conservation heroes like you, the queens and “kings of all wild things”, to amplify this “wild rumpus”. You can join the campaign by donating directly (all gifts support the Cabritos Island Restoration Project or by becoming an ambassador for the campaign and sharing with your friends, family, and colleagues.

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#SAVECABRITOSIGUANAS

About Wes Jolley

Wes joined Island Conservation in 2009 as part of the team dedicated to the restoration of San Nicolas Island, California. He has served various roles on Island Conservation’s projects in the US, Ecuador, Chile, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

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