2019 Motagua Spiny-tailed Iguana Report
Education for conservation, habitat protection and population reinforcement of the Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana Ctenosaura palearis at Heloderma Natural Reserve and its area of influence.
Daniel Ariano and Johana Gil (Heloderma Natural Reserve, Zootropic).
Overview and Objectives
- Education program: 10 visits to 4 elementary schools surrounding Heloderma Natural Reserve (HNR). We visited the same elementary schools visited two years ago: Quebrada Honda, El Tambor, La Puente and San Luis. We finally added also San Sebastian School as the principal requested to be included and it was on the way to other schools. These schools made around 500 people between students and teachers. We gave 24 prizes (backpacks) to winners of the Iguana drawing contest.
- Population reinforcement: One breeding enclosure for palearis was proposed, however, we were able to build two breeding enclosures as we received a private donation aimed at C. palearis conservation. In these two enclosures, we have 1 male and 3 females per enclosure. All of these individuals were rescued from marginal habitats such as cattle farms or house gardens within highly degraded habitats.
- Habitat protection: We took aerial photographs of forest cover within HNR and its surroundings twice a month with a Mavic 2 Pro Drone to monitor habitat protection and status of firebreak lines. We have strengthened habitat protection at HNR and its surroundings with aerial surveillance.
- Habitat restoration: 40 Leucaena collinsii trees along with 40 Pitayo Organ Pipe Cactus were proposed to be planted in the degraded patches within HNR to increase carrying capacity and promote habitat restoration for the species. Finally, we were able to seed, grow and plant 490 tree saplings from different dry forest species, as we received a private donation aimed at C. palearis conservation that helped us to increase the number of saplings produced and planted.
Outcomes and Impact
Ten visits (January – October), to the 4 schools previously proposed and as an extra we include San Sebastián school in Cabañas. We have reached around 500 children and teachers. During the July we had the Iguana drawing contest and 24 school backpacks were given to the first places of each grade at the 4 schools, as well as 60 storybooks “The Magic Snail”; 30 for the second and 30 for the third places respectively, which were obtained through a private donation by the author.
We conducted a first survey to assess the initial level of knowledge and attitudes towards iguana conservation of children and teachers in February and a second survey in late October, just after finishing the visits of the education program at the schools. Herein, we summarize the main findings of the surveys, comparing before and after the education program reached the schools:
- We see an increase in the number of the people who can correctly identify the C. palearis (Locally known as Organ Iguana) at the end of the education program (82.1%) compared to the beginning of the program (62.5%). They now understand the importance of knowing, identifying and naming the Organ Iguana correctly, as now whenever an iguana appears, we are notified by teachers and parents. This is relevant to diminish hunting pressure on the endangered palearis and switch it to other not endangered iguanas such as C. similis and Iguana iguana.
- We found an increase in correct knowledge about the threats the organ iguana is facing the area (98.72%) compared to the beginning of the program (65%).
- In general, now fewer people eat iguanas in both pre (35%) and post program surveys (32 %) and people who used to eat palearis in the first survey (22.5%), decrease at the end of the education program (17.95%), consuming instead C. similis or green iguana. Some have dropped consuming iguanas at all. Eating iguanas especially C. palearis is beginning to be frowned upon in the town’s part of the education program. The numbers of people eating iguanas were much greater in the first years of our education program (back in 2016) with around two thirds of the people eating iguanas.
When we asked their opinion towards an iguana conservation program, the support to iguana conservation increased from 45% in the beginning to 78.21% at the end of the education program. Now people understand the functions of iguanas as gardeners of the dry forest.
We built two enclosures (3mx 3m x 3m) with treated pine wood, and 1cm wide wire mesh to exclude natural predators such as snakes and hawks. We rescued 8 iguanas (2 males and 6 females) and lodged them in the enclosures by the month of September. Each enclosure has a total of 4 iguanas (one male and three females). The iguanas of the enclosures have been marked with visible painted numbers and with PIT tags. They are fed and monitored daily by the forest guards of HNR. We expect to start having eggs and hatchlings during the months of February and March of the year 2020. The hatchlings will be released later within available habitats within HNR. Iguanas have a diet based on bananas, flowers, wild fruits, organ pipe cactus fruits and mashed grains. Ants are allowed to enter some of the food dishes as Iguanas actively includes ants as part of their diet.
We have strengthened the protection of the HNR thanks to the information provided by the Drone Mavic 2 PRO. We have now better real time coverage in monitoring the boundaries of the HNR and its surroundings. We have taken aerial photographs and video to monitor the status of the firebreak and assess the risk of potential wildfires in the surrounding areas.
A total of 490 trees of four species typical of C. palearis habitat were planted in the degraded areas found within HNR. These species provide shelter and food for the iguana. A total of 183 Pacific mahogany trees (Swietenia humilis), 103 Motagua Wattle trees (Acacia picachensis), 135 Mauto trees (Lysiloma divaricatum), 20 Collins lead trees (Leucaena collinsii), and 49 Pitayo organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus pruinosus), were planted. We have stablished a regime of weekly watering with agriculture backpack sprayers by the forest guards of HNR that will continue until the beginning of the next rain season in 2020 as a way to ensure tree saplings attain the height and stem wide necessary for their survival.
- We plan to visit 3 new elementary schools of the rural towns of Antombran, Barrio El Centro Cabañas and Cerco de Piedra that had never been reached with the education program in the past. Along, we are also going to cover again El Arenal school, as it is the nearest village to HNR. We will continue with the drawing contest and this year we will design and print 500 Iguana conservation t-shirts that we plan to give to teachers and students part of the 2020 program. Surveys will be done as in the past, to assess the level of knowledge before and after the education program. This is especially relevant as 3 schools had never been reached with the program, and one (El Arenal) had been reached in two occasions (2016 and 2018).
- During 2020 we will continue with the reproduction in captivity. We hope to continue with the project the following years.
- We need to continue monitoring the growth of the planted trees as the dry season may extend in 2020 again. To continue with this project we were granted by IIF to cover all these future items in 2020.