Saving the World’s Most Endangered Lizards
JANUARY 29, 2014
CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The most endangered group of lizards in the world, Caribbean island rock iguanas, are beginning 2014 with a new coalition of conservation champions resolved to implement bold actions to help save these imperiled species. Governments, academics, nongovernment organizations and private stakeholders will collaborate on more than 20 projects focused on alleviating threats to iguanas, changing public perceptions and ensuring long-term financial, government and public support for iguana conservation.
With one Caribbean island iguana species already extinct and eight of the remaining 11 listed as critically endangered or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, this region-wide effort comes at a critical time for the survival of these species.
“Collaboration is key in this endeavor,” according to Brent Murry, science coordinator for the Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative and representative for the new effort. “The threats to these unique animals are immense and beyond any one organization or agency. A region-wide effort allows each country and organization to tap into regional expertise and resources in order to implement the local solutions iguanas so greatly need.”
Projects range from identifying essential habitat for these lizards’ survival, reducing threats from invasive species and supporting on-the-ground law enforcement efforts to promoting regional art contests. These projects and numerous others stemmed from a workshop held in Puerto Rico this past December that brought together 61 participants from 16 nations, including a representative for Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and a private land owner in the British Virgin Islands. Workshop participants identified the most critical issues for iguana conservation and developed action plans and timelines for projects considered to be of highest priority.
“This workshop was the first regional initiative that has brought together species experts with critical public and private stakeholders,” said Carmen R. Guerrero-Pérez, secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and workshop host. “The bar was raised, and now we are committed to implement the agreed-upon recovery actions locally as well as through international collaboration with other countries.”
“December’s workshop was the catalyst for conservation actions that will have an enormous impact on iguanas across the region,” said Bryan Arroyo, assistant director of international affairs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Service will be an active participant in developing and implementing these projects and supporting Caribbean governments and partners as they endeavor to save a piece of their natural heritage.”
“A key outcome of the workshop was a renewed commitment to coordinated, on-the-ground efforts that will directly benefit iguana conservation, including ‘headstarting,’ restoration and protection of iguana habitats and reintroduction efforts to enhance population recovery,” said Allison Alberts, chief conservation and research officer for San Diego Zoo Global and co-sponsor of the workshop.
Iguana conservation has a proven record of success, and partners are confident these projects will have a lasting impact. In 2002, the Grand Cayman blue iguana numbered fewer than 25 individuals. Today, there are more than 750 blue iguanas on Grand Cayman thanks to a conservation strategy that includes habitat protection, captive breeding and release, research, monitoring and education.
The Jamaican iguana — thought to be extinct as recently as the late 1980s — now numbers over 300 individuals as a result of intensive conservation efforts. But even these successes remain at risk when they run up against competing demands for land and resources. Commercial development threatens to wipe out the remaining habitat of the Jamaican iguana. Without vigilant conservation attention, success one day can turn to failure the next.
“Many of these conservation projects comprise tangible on-the-ground actions that will make a real and lasting difference in the protection of Caribbean iguana populations and their habitats,” said Kirsty Swinnerton, Caribbean program manager for Island Conservation. “We are excited to be part of this extraordinary effort to save these flagship species and to lend our expertise and resources in removing invasive species that threaten the survival of these iconic animals.”
Iguanas are the largest native vertebrates left on many of the Caribbean islands. As seed dispersers, they are vital to the ecosystem and help to maintain healthy native plant communities. Several iguana species exist as single populations with no more than a few hundred individuals. Invasive, introduced mammalian predators such as feral cats and dogs, as well as pigs and goats, are the greatest threat to many iguana species and their habitats. Other significant threats include habitat destruction by charcoal production and land development, collection for the pet trade, hunting, vehicular mortality, and competition and interbreeding with the introduced, invasive common green iguana.
About The Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative
The Caribbean LCC is a partnership among research and management agencies, organizations and individuals in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the wider Caribbean working to develop and provide sound management-driven science to help in the conservation of natural and cultural resources. The Caribbean LCC is one of a network of 22 LCCs initiated by the US Department of the Interior that cover the United States including Alaska, the Pacific islands, parts of neighboring Mexico and Canada, and the Caribbean. Visit www.caribbeanlcc.org. Follow us on twitter at @Caribbean_LCC.
About Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources
The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources was created in 1972. Our mission is to protect, conserve and administer the natural and environmental resources of the country to guarantee their enjoyment for the future generations and to stimulate a better life quality. Please refer to www.drna.gobierno.pr to learn more about us.
About the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/
About San Diego Zoo Global
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The important conservation and science work of these entities is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
About Island Conservation
Island Conservation (IC) is a global, not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to prevent extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. Once invasive species are removed, native island species and ecosystems recover with little additional intervention. Since 1994, Island Conservation has deployed scientists to 52 islands worldwide to protect 994 populations of 389 native species. In 2012, IC launched the Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) campaign to save our world’s most vulnerable species. The SIBD campaign partners are rallying governments, NGOs, and bi-and multi-lateral institutions worldwide to support island invasive species eradications. IC is headquartered in Santa Cruz, CA with field offices in Australia, British Columbia, the Caribbean, Chile, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Washington, DC.