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Brooke Kohler ’13 on a beach on St. John Island

Brooke Kohler ’13 on a beach on St. John Island

What began with an anthropology class that Brooke Kohler ’13 took on a whim turned into a summer studying iguanas on a Caribbean island.

Kohler (Flemington, N.J.) recently attended the 110th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Montreal after conducting research as a Mellon Scholar this summer in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  An anthropology & sociology major, Kohler assisted Crystal Fortwangler, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in environmental studies, in studying human perceptions of the island’s growing iguana population.

“My favorite thing about studying iguanas on St. John was getting to travel the island and meeting all different types of people,” says Kohler, a member of the track and field team.  “We attempted a population count of iguanas on the island, so we were able to hike through all the beautiful parks and through the town and I really got to see St. John from many different perspectives.”

At this year’s meeting of the AAA, Fortwangler presented the research with which Kohler assisted in a panel discussion titled “Cultural and Human Ecological Perspectives on Multispecies Encounters.”  The gist of the presentation, Kohler says, was to show the way that people view the iguanas in the face of the creatures’ climbing numbers.

Brooke Kohler ’13 and Cyrstal Fortwangler with one of St. Johns' iguanas

Brooke Kohler ’13 and Cyrstal Fortwangler with one of St. Johns' iguanas

“While it appears that there are many iguanas all over the island, the preliminary research I helped Crystal conduct demonstrated that iguanas like living off human resources, and more of them appear closer to where people live than in the natural parks,” says Kohler.  “This causes the illusion that iguanas are everywhere when they are really not.”

The study is of particular importance, Kohler says, because the iguanas are protected by the National Park Service, so their population will only continue to grow—which may affect people’s opinions of them later on.

After attending the meeting of the AAA, which Kohler describes as filled with “unique and interesting panels going on everywhere all day long,” Kohler is certain that she wants to pursue more anthropology education after Lafayette.

“Every step we took in conducting the research process, from researching at Skillman Library to field work on St. John, was an experience I wish to relive again and again and pursue as a career,” she says.

Now conducting another independent study with Fortwangler, Kohler considers anthropology one of her passions—something she wouldn’t have predicted when she haphazardly signed up for her first class in high school.


  1. Kris Reynolds says:

    I heard in the Cayman Islands according to the Sun Sentinel that they captured over 166,000 green iguanas in 2014 and the population grew to over 400,000 in 2 years. It was crazy explosive growth. We have to do a better job managing the green iguana population.

    Kris Reynolds – Iguana Removal Cost

  2. Raymond says:

    Hi Brooke:
    Enjoy your Summer work on St. John!
    Try to visit Gallows Point for there were many Iguanas
    lingering on the property.

  3. Dr. Raymond Welch Salm Jr. says:

    Dear Brooke:
    Millicent and I are both from Shrewsbury, New Jersey.
    After retiring , we spent a year on
    St John building Gallows at Cruz Bay. What a beautiful Island with so much
    Fauna and Flora. We always enjoyed the ferry ride from Red Hook.
    Tell us more about you experience working with the native population.
    It was quite intriguing to say the least.
    Relaxed at Hawk’s Nest “SCUBA” every Sunday but never found any sunken
    treasure like they have out of Halifax.
    Best Wishes;

    1. Brooke Kohler says:

      Hi Raymond,

      I apologize for responding so late to your comment, I did not know it was possible to comment on the article! Hopefully this overdue response reaches you!

      It makes me happy and slightly envious to hear that you and Millicent lived on St. John for a year, it truly is an amazing and beautiful place. I was really lucky to explore all over the island and work with all different types of people, from locals to tourists to other Caribbean islanders. I really enjoyed interviewing the locals on St. John, it was very apparent that they loved St. John and were very involved in island events and issues.

      An eye-opening experience for me was the relaxed atmosphere that could really change at any time (similar to the quick rainstorms that frequent the island!). There was one time Dr. Fortwangler and I went to the National Park Service to interview some people, but our interview was cut short. In the middle of Dr. Forwangler’s interview with one of the rangers, a group of boys came over with a bird in a backpack. It turned out the bird was injured, and they carried it all the way across the island to see if the ranger could help. The ranger knew of a woman who could help, but lived across the island, so the bird was denounced to us! Next thing we knew, we rearranged our afternoon schedule to drive a bird in a cardboard box on my lap to the “bird lady.”

      I learned so much from everyone on St. John, and I am fortunate enough to return this summer. I plan on continuing the iguana research from last summer, as well as a new project for a senior thesis. I can’t wait to share more experiences on the island and learn even more!

      Warm regards,

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