Conservation Status: Rhinoceros Iguana, IUCN Red List – Vulnerable; Ricord’s Iguana, IUCN Red List – Critically Endangered
Threats to Survival: Habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting; invasive species
Unraveling Iguana Ecology
In 2002, our in-country and international partners began a program to protect and monitor nesting zones for rhinoceros and Ricord’s iguanas in the Dominican Republic. In 2012, our Population Sustainability team advanced this work by carrying out the first detailed studies of nesting behavior and hatchling dispersal in both species. We also conducted the first range-wide survey of rhinoceros iguanas since the 1970’s, and discovered that their numbers have declined more than previously thought. We are continuing to collect vital data that will aid in the protection and preservation of these iguana species. Gaining a better understanding of their overall distribution and status, as well as the environmental characteristics needed for successful reproduction and hatchling dispersal, is critical for informed conservation planning.
Genetics Guiding Conservation
Using a variety of molecular techniques, we are evaluating the population genetic structure of rhinoceros and Ricord’s iguanas throughout the Dominican Republic. This information will allow us to better understand where sources of genetic variation exist and the potential negative effects of inbreeding found in small, isolated populations. Studies in our Conservation Genetics lab will also help us determine which areas are most vital to protect in order to secure the long-term future of these species. We are using molecular techniques to evaluate the origin of captive and confiscated rhinoceros iguanas, which is critical to determining the most appropriate sites for releasing individuals back into the wild. With our partners, we are using genetic techniques to evaluate the role that natal homing may play in nest site selection by female Ricord’s iguanas.
Helping through Outreach
In collaboration with our partners, our Population Sustainability and Community Engagement teams have been working to document the many facilities, known locally as iguanarios, holding rhinoceros iguanas throughout the Dominican Republic. The majority of iguanarios house confiscated iguanas of unknown origin in subpar conditions. Overcrowding as a result of uncontrolled reproduction can result in animals being released at inappropriate sites. After documenting all iguanarios in the country, we held a workshop in 2014 that brought together facility managers and conservation managers to find solutions that not only improved animal care, but also helped alleviate risks to the wild population resulting from haphazard releases.