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Roatán Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura oedirhina) ©Jeff Lemm

Rekindling a Passion for Conservation

By Claudia Ki

As an aspiring conservationist, I often find myself both impassioned by this work and disheartened by the rate progress is made. I was in exactly this state of mind as I set out for iguana conservation field work in Roatán during the summer of 2022.

The local iguana, the Roatán Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura oedirhina), is an endemic species with dwindling numbers due to over harvesting. Currently, they are only found in privately protected areas. Our project aims to improve the conservation of the species through providing population numbers, assessing health and environmental threats, and expanding understanding of their reproduction. As we learn more about the impacts of different types of disturbances on reproduction and locate vital nesting areas, we can provide recommendations for private landowners and conservation managers, especially regarding when the iguanas may be extra sensitive to disturbances.

As I headed out into the field for the summer, I was excited to be part of the team learning more about these iguanas. Yet I still wondered if what we were doing would be impactful and timely enough to make a difference. We got to work, proceeding to locate, capture, and tag iguanas for population monitoring. All of us on the conservation team were very excited each time we found and tagged an iguana, then sent it on its way again. As biologists, that’s not surprising, since it’s what we do and what we love.

Close up of an adult C. oedirhina. This species has a large rounded snout, unlike most other ctenosaurs who have more pointed snouts. Photo by Daisy Maryon.

However, this time it wasn’t just us. I was delighted to see that not only were we charmed by these feisty iguanas, but so was everyone around us! Whether it was local people or tourists, adults or children, everyone took an interest in the iguanas.

People asked us questions, and they listened intently as we explained what we were doing and told them about the precarious status of the species. I was thrilled whenever they asked about how to help, and when they enthusiastically told me about their favorite iguana encounters. I was so excited to see the public taking such an interest in conservation and the biology of iguanas.

Ctenosaura oedirhina - Jeff Lemm

This great experience reminded me that conservation does not happen in a vacuum, and people are generally very excited about the living things in their environment. Meeting all these different people and hearing their enthusiasm and support for our work refueled my own passion for conservation. This refreshing experience reminds me that while progress and sustainable change are often slow, they are still important—and that many people besides scientists really do care.

Video of Claudia Releasing a Tagged Iguana

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