The San Diego Zoo was overjoyed to obtain six Fiji Island banded iguanas in 1965, with the help of His Royal Highness Tupouto’ a-Tungi (right), the ruler of the Tongan Islands. Zoological Society board of trustees member Howard Chernoff (left), worked with the Prince to acquire the rare reptiles on a visit to the islands. Reptile curator Charles Shaw hadn’t even believed it was possible, since this iguana species was so rare in collections that few herpetologists had ever seen it alive. In fact, when the three males and three females arrived at the Zoo, the staff was surprised to see that the lizards were much smaller and more delicately built than they had expected. They also had some anxious days trying to figure out how to feed the newcomers, but after finally hand feeding them hibiscus flowers, then vegetables and crickets, these royals among iguanas finally began to eat heartily on their own.
This beautifully colored, blue-green lizard would become a key species for the Herpetology Department and a future conservation success.