Not many people could claim that they have single-handedly enabled a species to survive. In the Eastern Caribbean country of Anguilla, however, one man has dedicated over 20 years to ensuring the continued existence of a critically endangered lizard.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is pleased to announce that Stanley Rogers, a self-employed fisherman from Anguilla, has been honoured with a 2019 Disney Conservation Hero Award. The award recognises local citizens for their commitment to save wildlife, protect habitats and inspire their communities to take part in conservation efforts. Recipients from around the world were nominated by non-profit environmental organisations, in this case FFI. As the lead nominating organisation, FFI chose to forgo its share of the $1,500 award from the Disney Conservation Fund, which will instead be split between Stanley himself and Anguilla National Trust.

Dr Jenny Daltry, Senior Conservation Biologist and Head of Caribbean at FFI, shared with us the inspiring story of Stanley’s heroic work to protect one of the Caribbean’s most imperilled species.

I first learned about Mr Rogers in 2018, while conducting a census of the Little Scrub ground lizard (Pholidoscelis corax) as part of the Disney‐funded Eastern Caribbean Offshore Island Conservation Network. Every morning I travelled to Little Scrub islet with staff from the Anguilla National Trust, and every morning we saw a small wooden boat moored offshore and a tall, thin man on the island with a long fishing rod and a big blue pail. He often departed just as we arrived.

One day we stopped to ask him what he was doing there. “Just feeding the lizards,” he shyly answered, and seemed to brace himself for being laughed at. When pressed, he explained he goes fishing around the Anguilla coast at dawn every day except Fridays, his Sabbath, and then takes the fish guts and scraps to Little Scrub to feed the lizards. He told us he feels sorry for the lizards because they have nothing left to eat on the island since hurricanes and a tsunami swept away the vegetation. The lizards know him and come to be fed.

Since that chance meeting, we have asked around the local community to find out more about him. Now 60 years old, Stanley has been a fisherman for 45 years – using a traditional home‐made rod and line. He is well respected by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources and in his community of Island Harbour as an honest and kind man, and he has been feeding the lizards on Little Scrub for more than 20 of those years.

Mr Rogers expressed his surprise and gratitude at receiving the award – which comes with a handsome medal, cash prize and Disney merchandise. At his award ceremony, he described his first encounters with the lizards while taking a rest from catching fish around Little Scrub. “I noticed that these little black lizards would come and lick my fingers. So I would put some bait aside for them so I could get some rest! Since Hurricane Luis [1995] and Hurricane Irma [2017], I noticed that the fruits and other food these lizards would eat was gone. All the prickly pear trees were blown away. The other plants were gone. I realised that the only chance for the lizards to survive was to keep giving them my bait.”

Little Scrub lizard (Pholidoscelis corax). Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI
Little Scrub lizard (Pholidoscelis corax). Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI

Thanks to his incredible devotion to the Little Scrub ground lizards, this species has survived a series of massive hurricanes since 1995, storm surges that swept over the tiny island, extreme droughts, and, most devastating of all, the loss of the plant life and with it the fruits and insects the lizards depended on. When I caught some of the almost‐tame lizards by hand last year, it was apparent that they had eaten nothing but fish! There can be no doubt that were it not for Mr Rogers, most of these unique reptiles would have starved to death by now.

Extreme weather events stripped Little Scrub of food for the ground lizard. Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI
Extreme weather events stripped Little Scrub of food for the ground lizard. Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI

Unfortunately, the low‐lying islet is only two hectares in area, and shrinking. With rising sea levels, it will surely disappear altogether. So as part of a new climate change mitigation programme supported by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, FFI and our partners are now planning to work with Stanley Rogers to relocate some of the lizards to another, much bigger, island a few miles away, which is still covered in vegetation, full of insects and other food, and has no predators – or ground lizards. Research is under way, but we think this will make an ideal home for the Little Scrub ground lizards. Mr Rogers can then rest easy, knowing his lizard friends will be safe long after he has become too old to catch fish for them.

Disney Conservation Hero, Stanley Rogers, receiving his award. Credit: Anguilla National Trust
Disney Conservation Hero, Stanley Rogers, receiving his award. Credit: Anguilla National Trust

We would like to congratulate Stanley on his well-deserved award, thank Anguilla National Trust for helping with the nomination and hosting the award ceremony, and also take this opportunity to recognise the outstanding work of all our hardworking staff and partners who strive to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

Disney Conservation is committed to saving wildlife and building a global community inspired to work together to protect the magic of nature. Since 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has directed $86 million to support non-profit organisations working with communities to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet, and has honoured more than 180 Conservation Heroes for their extraordinary conservation efforts. For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of recent Conservation Hero Award recipients, visit the Disney website.