Endangered West Indian Rock Iguanas

Iguana
Photograph: Roy Toft (www.toftphoto.com)

Our research has focused on one of nine species of West Indian rock iguanas, genus Cyclura. Three subspecies of the Bahamian endemic, Cyclura rileyi, are recognized. Some 500 individuals of the San Salvador Rock Iguana (Cyclura rileyi rileyi) persist on six tiny cays off of San Salvador Island. This taxon will benefit from continued research and a captive-breeding and “headstarting” project. Our research on the Sandy Cay Iguana (Cyclura rileyi cristata) saved it from extinction, as predation by Black Rats and a single Raccoon plunged population numbers on its only island home to fewer than 200 by 1997. After we eradicated the alien predators, iguana numbers increased to ca. 1,000. Even so, we urgently need to translocate some individuals to establish an “insurance” population. Fortunately, the Acklins Bight Iguana (Cyclura rileyi nuchalis) is faring better, with 3,000+ individuals remaining on three islands.

The taxonomy of this group needs clarification. The possibility remains that these are three distinct species, which would warrant higher conservation priority. Projects include:

Captive-breeding and “Headstarting” of the San Salvador Iguana
Key components: construction of research and captive-breeding facility; captive-breeding and “headstarting” programs; population surveys; conservation education
Project duration: 10 years
Estimated cost: $100,000 (excluding salaries)

Translocation of the Sandy Cay Iguana to Establish a Second Population
Key components: suitable nearby cay already identified; translocation of animals; iguana and vegetation surveys to document translocation success; conservation education
Project duration: 10 years
Estimated cost: $20,000 (excluding salaries)

Conservation Phylogeography of Cyclura rileyi
Key components: DNA sample collection; molecular phylogenetic analysis
Project duration: 2 years
Estimated cost: $5,000 (excluding salaries)