IIF Announces Land Purchase in the Dominican Republic

2012 Purchase will protect critical nesting habitat for Ricord’s Iguanas
Cyclura ricordii
Jose Luis and Ernst Rupp (Grupo Jaragua) evaluate the new property that IIF has agreed to purchase

The International Iguana Foundation (IIF), in collaboration with their partner Grupo Jaragua, announced today that they have reached an agreement to purchase another parcel of land that will protect important nesting habitat for the Critically Endangered Ricord’s Iguana in the Dominican Republic. The land – 6.3 hectares (15.5 acres) – is adjacent to Fondo La Tierra, one of the most important nesting concentrations of iguanas in the DR. La Tierra, comprising 22 hectares (54 acres), was acquired by the IIF and Grupo Jaragua in 2010, bringing the total property under management for iguana conservation to 29 hectares (69.5 acres). The new property provides an important buffer zone between an agricultural area and La Tierra, and with time the site can be restored to a more natural state by planting native vegetation. Both sites lie along the margins of the Jaragua National Park, close to Pedernales, one of only three known viable populations of Ricord’s Iguanas in the DR.

This year, over 110 Ricord’s Iguana nests were confirmed in La Tierra, and nests began hatching in mid-June. Both Ricord’s and Rhinoceros Iguanas nest in La Tierra, and the Rhinos are just finishing nesting now. The two species’ ranges overlap in some areas in the south, but their nesting and hatching times are different thereby largely avoiding competition between females for limited nesting sites and hatchlings for limited food and shelter resources.

Cyclura ricordii
Lauren Anderson (left) and Rosanna Carreras (right) assist Stesha Pasachnik (buried) in retrieving the hatched eggs.

A team from San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) and Grupo Jaragua, led by SDZG postdoc Stesha Pasachnik, is investigating the nesting ecology of La Tierra. Nest characteristics, such as depth and temperature, of both species are being studied as part of this project. Excavating Ricord’s Iguana nests is hard and dirty work. This process can go on for five hours sometimes without locating the nest chamber.

In addition, hatchlings of both species are collected as they emerge when they are marked and sampled for genetics prior to release. A subset is being radio-tracked to learn where juveniles go to live and feed, and what the level of mortality from predation is. Juvenile iguanas face a number of predators in their first years of life including mongoose, snakes (racers and boas), cats, and birds. Unfortunately adult iguanas are not completely safe either, and this year 16 females were found dead, having been killed by dogs while attempting to nest. We are looking for ways to remedy this problem for the 2013 nesting season.