Teaming up with several top end zoos, we have established an ex situ conservation program.
Numbers of the critically endangered Lesser Antillean iguana are ever dwindling throughout their native range. In early 2016, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Jersey Zoo), Diergaarde Blijdorp (Rotterdam Zoo), St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA), and Reptile, Amphibian, and Fish Conservation group in the Netherlands (RAVON) got together to develop an ex situ breeding project for this species. While this plan focuses on an ex situ breeding group, it also feeds into the Species Action Plan, which is being developed throughout the species’ native range.
A small ex situ population of I. delicatissima is already being kept at a number of EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions. This population is currently coordinated through an EAZA studbook managed by Matt Goetz (Jersey Zoo) to keep a sustainable and sufficiently robust genetic base. It would strongly benefit from the genetic input of several unrelated iguanas, which would have to be wild- caught without resulting in a detrimental effect on the wild sub-population.
The main aim of this ex situ population are to safeguard a genetically robust captive population, to develop husbandry and breeding expertise to aid in situ initiatives developed under the Species Action Plan, and to display the species to zoo audiences to facilitate the raising of awareness and funds. There is the possibility that at some point offspring could return back to their native range if the situation in situ would require this and appropriate biosecurity measures would be in place.
We hope that in the near future we will be able to start an in situ breeding facility on St. Eustatius as well, and bring to it the knowledge gained from the breeding project in the European zoos. However, on St. Eustatius, and many other islands, it remains important that surveillance and biosecurity measures are upheld in order to protect the native I. delicatissima population, from (further) Common Green iguana (Iguana iguana) or hybrid incursions. Presence of invasive iguanas could make in situ breeding efforts of I. delicatissima futile if they are destined to eventually hybridize; therefore any invasive iguanas must be removed. This is still deemed possible on St. Eustatius as hybridization is still at an early stage, and to date only 10 hybrids have been located based on many hours in the field specifically on the lookout for invasive iguanas.