At a recent conservation meeting in the Caribbean regarding iguanas, there was discussion about establishing additional colonies on islands, so that the lizards would be protected from human-caused threats. The selected islands included their historical homes and new, safe places.
Of course, moving animals is nothing new. Mankind has been moving and introducing animals to new locations throughout history–but rarely has this been beneficial to the native species. Pigs and goats, released to be eventual food sources, have been introduced to islands as natural “livestock pens.” Sadly, livestock often destroy the islands’ ecosystems.
In recent times, iguanas have been moved by people from one island to another, seemingly just because they can. Maybe it happens because the lizards are so attractive and people want some in their previously iguana-free zone, but they are also taken as a food source. Iguanas have been eaten for centuries, although they are now protected from hunting and consumption. Others may think they are helping the iguanas achieve more genetic mixing by adding individuals from one isolated populations to another.
Consequently, scientists prefer to ensure the safety of the iguanas and the island’s environment when translocating them.
Setting up a new community of iguanas is more than just grabbing a few of them and dumping them on their new home. Iguanas are selected by sex, age, reproductive fitness and health status.
Of course, the islands are carefully pre-screened before the iguanas are collected. There must be proper food, no invasive animal species, like mice and rats, den sites and perhaps most importantly, nesting sites. Once the appropriate candidate iguanas have been selected, captured, and examined, they aren’t just plopped onto the island. No, they must wait until the food they ate on their home island has cleared their guts. Iguanas are important seed disperses, but bringing foreign plants onto the receiving island must be prevented. Islands need to be protected from invasive plant species as well.
The possibility of increasing the ranges of critically endangered iguanas is exciting. It’s worth the years of planning that goes into making these projects realities! If you’d like to participate in these efforts, please donate to your favorite conservation organization, or volunteer as a citizen scientist. But don’t pick up an iguana and toss it onto another island!
Some organizations involved in iguana conservation are the International Iguana Foundation, IUCN Iguana Specialist Group, International Reptile Conservation Foundation, The Shedd Aquarium, The Trust of The Bahamas, and The Trust of the Cayman Islands, to name a few.
Book Note: Want to learn more about these wonderful creatures? Go to My Unit Study on Iguanas at Lyric Power Publishing–it’s 30 pages of fun activities and coloring pages for $1.47 until December 31, 2020.