When most people think of the British Virgin Islands, they probably think about white sand beaches, clear blue seas, and complete relaxation. With sprawling resorts, luxurious vacation homes, and yachts cruising around the shore, it’s hard to imagine anyone worrying about anything on the islands. However, for those who cherish the natural history of these islands there is plenty to be worried about.
The second-largest island in the British Virgin Island Archipelago, Anegada, is home to a fantastically-cool lizard species: the Anegada Island Iguana (Cyclura pinguis). This large lizard inhabits dry, rocky areas of Anegada Island where it lives out its days feeding on fruits and leaves. Both sexes have large home ranges, characterized by limestone crevices and burrow structures that allow these lizards to find shelter during the hottest parts of the day.
Males, distinguishable by the turquoise on various parts of their bodies, compete readily for females, which are much duller in colour. Each spring, females lay about fifteen eggs and, ideally, these will produce juveniles that will branch out from the nesting site, establish their own home ranges, and live out their lives on beautiful Anegada Island. Sadly, the situation for these lizards is far from ideal.
Since the 1970’s, when domesticated animals were first introduced to Anegada Island, the iguanas living there have rapidly declined in number. Sparsely vegetated to begin with, the island is currently devoid of many plants these iguanas used to rely on for food. Goats, sheep, cattle, and burros leave very little for the Anegada Island Iguanas to eat, resulting in decreased nesting success and lower survivorship overall.
Additionally, introduced dogs and cats feed on these lizards which, had the island not been full of rocky crevices the iguanas could hide in, would certainly have driven this wonderful animal to extinction already. Still, the Anegada Island Iguana is far from secure and it is estimated that only two or three hundred individuals remain in the wild.
As with almost every conservation project that involves endemic island fauna, current efforts to save the Anegada Island Iguana are focused mainly on ridding the ecosystem of non-native species. The eradication of cats and dogs, the construction of livestock exclosure fences, and the re-vegetation of degraded habitats are high on the priority list for conservationists working with this species.
Forward-thinking individuals established a satellite population on nearby Guana Island in 1987, where the iguana has been doing very well due to the absence of grazers. Furthermore, a population was more recently established on Necker Island. A few zoos have been successfully breeding and head-starting this species, helping offset the large number of juveniles lost to introduced predators each year.
Protecting this lizard is crucial given its role as a dominant herbivore and, by helping spread awareness; you will fulfill your role as an admirable global citizen. Clear solutions exist to save this critically-endangered species from extinction and, if strong efforts to save it continue to be implemented, the Anegada Island Iguana will never be lost.
Mitchell, Numi. West Indian Iguanas. Publication. Ed. Allison Alberts. Oxford: IUCN, 2000. Print.
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