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Jamaican Iguana


Scientific Name: Cyclura collei

IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Description: Moderately-sized iguana with males reaching a body length of around 1.4 feet, not including the tail.  They are greenish-grey in color overall with dark olive-green accents and bluish tones around the face and on the crest spines.  Three broad triangular patches extend from dorsal crest scales toward the underside, with dark olive-brown zigzag spots and blotches of straw color.  In the wild their skin is stained by minerals in the soil and appears predominantly reddish-brown.

Distribution: Hellshire Hills, Jamaica.

Habitat: Rugged limestone outcroppings with coarse red ferralic soil accumulating in crevices and depressions. Soil suitable for nesting must be looser and is comparatively scarce. The vegetation of the Hellshire Hills consists of tropical dry forest, one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Jamaican Iguanas are found only in the remotest sections of the Hellshire Hills where the forest remains in good condition.

Reproduction: There are only three communal nesting sites that remain in the Hellshire Hills.  Loose soil is optimum for nesting to take place since iguanas excavate a nest chamber.  Females will dig trial holes and eventually complete a nest tunnel where an average of 17 eggs will be laid.  Females will defend nests for several days, before and after laying.  Unfortunately, nests laid outside of the protected area are susceptible to heavy predation from mongooses and feral pigs which greatly reduce hatching rates.  Additionally, hatchlings are also highly impacted by feral predators and juvenile recruitment is extremely low. 

Notes: Feared extinct for nearly half a century, the Jamaican Iguana was rediscovered in 1990 when a pig hunter's dog caught an adult male, the first specimen seen alive since the 1940s.  A remnant population still clings to existence in the remote rugged limestone forests of the Hellshire Hills in southeast Jamaica. Though hunted extensively in historic times, the introduced Indian Mongoose poses the greatest threat to their continued survival by taking a high percentage of unhatched eggs, resulting in an aging population.  At one time considered "the most endangered lizard in the world" the Jamaican Iguana has been the subject of an intensive conservation and recovery effort and is beginning to make a strong comeback. The two largest nesting sites continue to yield hatchlings for a headstart program at Kingston's Hope Zoo, and as of 2011, 155 young adult iguanas have been released back into their native habitat.  A predator control program removes mongoose from the core iguana area.  But without active conservation measures this species is still at a high risk of extinction.  Wild population estimates are hard to determine but range from 100 - 200.  A dedicated recovery team, both in Jamaica and the US, actively raises funds to sustain the recovery effort, minimally $20,000 annually. The IIF considers the Jamaican Iguana one of their highest priorities for funding. 

For information on conservation, management and how the IIF is working to save this species, please see the Projects Section.

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