Sunday, April 29, 2007

Iguanas and what real conservation involves

So I have been, as I imagine you have been, delighted to see the sudden mass switch on in the US media regarding global warming and related issues. Its great that attention is finally being focussed on this most massive of issues. But whilst everyone who's anyone is trying to get photographed with Al Gore and competing to buy the most fuel efficient car hundreds of conservationists around the world are literally battling to save species from extinction. Over Easter I visited a Rock Iguana headstart facility on the island of Anegada.


The Anegadan Rock Iguana (Cyclura pinguis) is one of a number of iguanas endemic to islands throughout the caribbean. Many islands and small cays have their own species of Cyclura but the common link for all of them is that, well, they're in deep trouble. Habitat destruction, overgrazing by livestock and predation of young animals by introduced rats, cats and mongooses devastate the ability of these slow growing, slow reproducing animals to increase population. Formally spread throughout the Puerto Rican Bank this species is now restricted to this island and 2 small introduced populations nearby ( a wild population of 2-300 animals total). So this is what real conservation looks like for the Anegada rock iguana and many of its close relatives; a group of small pens put together and maintained by dedicated conservationists and local national parks officials. Inside these pens, the next generation of iguanas are slowly growing to a size where they are able to fend off feral cats and other predators and survive in the wild.


Once a caribbean rock iguana reaches maturity life is pretty good. They are generally the largest vertebrates on their island so they can spend their time happily eating, basking in the sun and hopefully making more baby iguanas. Ultimately the goal would be to free up the islands of introduced predators and allow the iguanas to do their thing without our assistance. That however is easier said than done. So for the time being the Anegada Rock Iguana, other Cyclura species and hundreds of other island endemics will battle on with the help of dedicated people and limited resources.


So, am I arguing that we should all forget about global warming and stump up our cash to save species like this? Well here's the kicker Anegada is only 25 feet above sea level at its highest point. A small rise in sea level would massively reduce the island's land mass. So if we want to save species like this we have to draw attention to both the big picture and the small details. If we neglect either we will lose these animals forever.

For more information on Cyclura iguanas of the Caribbean go here. For information on other endangered island wildlife try here.

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