- Status: Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List
- Major threats: Invasive predators, human encroachment and habitat loss, primarily associated with charcoal production.
- Program Milestones:
- 155 Jamaican iguanas repatriated to the Hellshire Hills through the Headstart program.
- Camera traps purchased and used to survey the Goat Islands.
- What still needs to be done:
- Restoration of the Goat Islands to allow for the establishment of a re-introduced iguana population. This activity is imperative to the survival of this species.
- Additional monitoring and protection of nesting sites to prevent predation of iguana eggs and hatchlings.
- Continuation of monitoring for and removal of introduced predators in the core iguana conservation zone in the Hellshire Hills.
The International Iguana Foundation provides core support funding for the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Program. Thought to be extinct since the 1940s, the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) was rediscovered by Edwin Duffus in August 1990. A small population of fewer than 100 individuals was found to exist only in the most undisturbed portions of the Hellshire Hills area of Jamaica. Currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, this remains the only population known to survive. The Jamaican iguana has been called the most endangered lizard in the world and is the largest land vertebrate native to Jamaica. Following its rediscovery, the iguana became a flagship species for conservation in the West Indies. The decline of the Jamaican iguana is attributed to the introduction of invasive predators, particularly the mongoose. Predators such as mongooses, feral cats, and feral dogs feed on hatchling iguanas and eggs at such a high rate that populations cannot reproduce fast enough to allow for recruitment into the adult population. As a result, the iguana population in Jamaica and on other Caribbean countries consists almost entirely of older adult iguanas which are too large for the predators to eat. With no new iguanas to sustain recruitment, the population crashes as older individuals die. Other threats include human encroachment and habitat destruction. Charcoal production, development, road construction, and limestone mining in Jamaica have all contributed to the loss of vital habitat and continue to threaten the small areas of natural habitat that still remain.
In 1992, prior to the formation of the IIF, the Fort Worth Zoo teamed up with the Hope Zoo in Jamaica to help provide support for the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Program. Zoos from around the United States joined in the recovery effort to save this species from the brink of extinction. The organizations that joined in this fight brought both technical and financial support and, in doing so, made a contribution to the survival of the Jamaican iguana. One of the primary aspects of the recovery program is the headstart and release of juvenile iguanas. The IIF provides financial support to keep this program going and in 2010 the new headstart facility at the Hope Zoo became operational. Headstarting consists of capturing hatchlings as they emerge from nesting sites and rearing them in captivity until they are large enough to ward off predators. These iguanas are then released into the wild population to live out their lives and contribute to future generations. Since the first release in 1997, 174 headstarted Jamaican iguanas have been released into their native Hellshire Hills habitat. Researchers have confirmed that headstarted iguanas are breeding and nesting. Nest monitoring and protection makes headstarting possible by providing a source of hatchlings. Predators can destroy a nesting site so predator control is essential to the survival of the headstart program and this species. Unfortunately, this makes the current population in the Hellshire Hills conservation dependent and unable to survive without constant human intervention.
Left: Headstart iguana #38. This iguana was released into the wild in 2005. This photo was taken in 2006 after she was found during radio tracking. Just one year after her release she not only appeared to be healthy but had shown signs that she nested. Below: Image of an iguana from a camera trap in the Hellshire Hills.
To create a self-sustaining population with enough habitat to support it, a predator free iguana sanctuary must be created. A small group of islands close to the Hellshire Hills have been identified as an ideal sanctuary site. The Goat Islands were historically occupied by iguanas and other native animals such as the endemic Jamaican boa and coney; however, the islands are now overrun with goats, mongooses and feral cats, which make reintroduction impossible. A survey conducted on the Goat Islands used camera traps to capture still images of both native and invasive animals. Additional surveys will be conducted prior to invasive species removal and iguana re-introduction. Since the islands are small and separated from the mainland, preventing invasive species re-introduction will be easier. The IIF contributes funding to assist in the surveying of the Goat Islands and we hope that future funding will make this potential iguana sanctuary a reality that can ensure the survival of the Jamaican iguana.
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For more information on the Jamaican iguana, please go to our species page.
Or, read the most recent news from our researchers.
Message from our research team: “We are fighting a tough battle here in Jamaica, but one we do not intend to lose. Last year (2011) we recorded a record number of nesting iguanas – three times as many as when the project started in 1991, and over half of those were repatriated headstarters. However, we must keep up the fight, because otherwise the iguana will drift into extinction.”
- Dr. Byron Wilson, Head, Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group
Right: Female iguanas at a communal nesting site in the Hellshire Hills