Population of Species—Once Thought to Be Extinct—Increases by Four
The population of critically endangered Jamaican iguanas is on the rise, thanks in part to the efforts of researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s Kenneth and Anne Griffin Reptile Conservation Center—an off-exhibit breeding facility at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Since September, four Jamaican iguanas have hatched here from eggs of two different pairs of adult iguanas. One egg from the first clutch hatched Sept. 4 and three eggs from the second clutch hatched Oct. 6, 7 and 11. With the addition of these four new animals, a total of 11 Jamaican iguanas now reside at the Park’s Reptile Conservation Center.
The baby iguanas now have a much lighter gray color overall, with more pronounced striping than they will have when they become adults. As they grow, their body will become dark gray and rust-colored, with greenish-blue highlights. Jamaican iguanas continue to grow over their entire lifetime, and they can eventually reach up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 15 pounds.
San Diego Zoo Global first received a group of Jamaican iguanas in 1996—three males and three females. The first successful hatching of this critically endangered lizard occurred in 2013, with the birth of a female that still lives at the Reptile Conservation Center. She will become part of the center’s breeding program when a suitable mate can be found for her.
“I’m very pleased with the results of our work this year,” said Jeff Lemm, conservation program specialist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “Our job is to help make the animals successful at reproducing through the husbandry we provide, and it’s fantastic that we are starting to achieve these goals.”
Jamaican iguanas are found only in the tropical dry forests of the Hellshire Hills outside of Kingston, Jamaica. They are the largest native animal in Jamaica. The Jamaican iguana was believed to be extinct in the 1940s; however, in 1990, a pig hunter’s dog found a Jamaican iguana, which was then brought to the Hope Zoo in Kingston, Jamaica. That same year, a survey of the Hellshire Hills found a small population of fewer than 100 Jamaican iguanas, and researchers began a large-scale program to try to save this iguana from extinction. Due to deforestation and threats from non-native animals—including mongooses, cats, dogs and pigs—the Jamaican iguana is currently listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
San Diego Zoo Global is one of several organizations in North America working to produce a self-sustaining population of Jamaican iguanas in managed care, to ensure genetic diversity and eventually help increase the species’ numbers in its native habitats. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) program for Jamaican iguanas is managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)—and combines the expertise of 10 U.S. zoos that have breeding programs for the Jamaican iguana—to help provide an assurance population for the species.