- Status: Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List
- Major threats: Habitat loss and collection for the international pet trade.
Guatemalan spiny tailed iguanas belong to the genus Ctenosaura, an understudied group of iguanas that has not drawn as much publicity or conservation effort as their close relatives, the highly endangered West Indian rock iguanas (genus Cyclura). Of the 40 species of iguanine lizards, 18 belong to the genus Ctenosaura, making it the most species-rich genus in this family of large, primarily herbivorous lizards. Ten species were evaluated for the IUCN Red List to determine their risk of extinction and of these, four were ranked Critically Endangered and three were ranked as Endangered.
Ctenosaura palearis, the Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana, is listed as Endangered under the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss, fragmented population, and collection for the international pet trade. The habitat for this iguana species consists of tropical dry forest and tropical thorn scrub which is considered to be the most endangered ecosystem in Guatemala. Additionally, this species is highly associated with the cactus Stenocereus pruinosus in which breeding groups live and a vital food source, the fruit of the cactus, is provided. A major component of habitat degradation for this species is the loss of cactus trees, which they depend on so heavily, to increase agriculture of exported crops. This species also faces threats from harvest. Although the species is harvested for subsistence by locals as a food source and for use in traditional medicine, it is the taking of individuals for the pet trade that is of greatest concern. The iguana provides an important source of protein to native people who on average harvest 6 iguanas per month as opposed to the 50-60 per month collected for sale in the pet trade.
Field studies on C. palearis have provided information to begin conservation plans for the species and have identified areas for protection. The initial and ongoing studies have involved local villages in research, education, and decision making to spread awareness of ecological issues and gain support for the project. The education programs conducted by Zootropic have created a level of community involvement and pride in the conservation of this endangered ecosystem and its inhabitants. At present more than 25,000 school children and farmers in the Motagua Valley have been exposed to this program, which consists of live specimens presentations, handouts, interactive magazines and learner assessment questionnaires.
The International Iguana Foundation was impressed with the studies and programs put forth by Zootropic and their team. Funding provided by IIF in 2010 will allow for continued monitoring studies and expansion of the current education program. The field monitoring program of the Guatemalan Spiny tailed Iguana and its habitat will georeference at detail every cactus inside the reserve and monitor the movements of marked individuals (bead tags) of the species within this area to determine the patterns of habitat use. Expansion of the educational program will include a series of 4 workshops focused on developing a National Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura palearis) and its habitat (focused on cactus conservation).
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For more information on the Guatemalan spiny tailed iguana, please go to our species page.
Message from our research team: "The Guatemalan Spiny Tailed Iguana is a keystone species for the seasonally dry tropical forest of the Motagua Valley, in eastern Guatemala. This species is crucial in seed dissemination of tree species of the area and especially of the endemic cacti that inhabit the valley. Local communities in the area perceive the species as especially important because they feed on its eggs and hunt some specimens for its meat during certain times of the year. The species becomes one of the most important sources of protein for poor farm communities within the area. They are now especially interested in protect the remaining habitat and developing a sustainable harvesting plan for the species to ensure its survival in the future and to maintain the food security of the local communities. Our project will help in developing a sustainable use plan for the species and also to identify the critical items needed to ensure the survival of the species in the last remaining dry forests of the Motagua Valley."