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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

461 Iguanas Released to Repopulate Galapagos Island

QUITO – Technicians with the Galapagos National Park reinserted 461 land iguanas onto Santiago Island about two weeks ago, transporting them from another island in the Ecuadorian archipelago with the aim of returning the reptile species to a habitat where it had died out.

The ecological restoration project for the Galapagos iguanas, which are members of the Conolophus subcristatus species, was launched about 20 years ago on Santiago Island.

The project was pursued in parallel to the eradication of predatory species introduced by man like hogs, burros and feral goats, which eat all kinds of vegetation and, specialists say, alter the habitat of animals endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

An initial group of iguanas was inserted onto the island in January 2019 and their adaptation to their new home has benefitted the local ecosystem, where Darwin’s finches, colonies of various kinds of seals and flamencos and assorted other native species live.

The terrestrial iguanas that were released on Feb. 13 on Santiago were captured on the island of Seymour Norte.

The director of the Galapagos National Park, Danny Rueda, said that because the creatures are herbivores, which eat cactus leaves, fruits, thorn bushes and flowers, they disperse the seeds of those plants within the ecosystem and are managing to restore the island’s ecological integrity.

“The aim of reintroducing the iguanas to Santiago Island is to return this reptile, which went extinct (on the island) more than 200 years ago to its natural ecosystems,” Rueda said.

The Ecuadorian Environment and Water Ministry said that the operation included nature park guards, who were tasked with trapping the reptiles – which are easy to identify because of the yellow coloring on their sides. The objective throughout the project has been to keep the animals calm and well cared for to prevent the species from getting overstressed.

One of the specialists involved in the project, Jean Pierre Cadena, said that this is a delicate species that is difficult to handle.

“We’re trying to keep the species from feeling threatened, with biosecurity measures, so that the animal doesn’t have so much stress at the time of capture,” he said.

Before being released onto Santiago Island, the 461 iguanas went through a quarantine and each was catalogued according to its morphological characteristics, including giving them physical examinations, removing any parasites and marking the individuals with an identification chip.

Thus, these reptiles – which grow up to a meter (3.3 feet) in length – will be monitored by park personnel and how they adapt to their new habitat will be recorded.

The technicians at the park hope that reintroducing the creatures onto Santiago Island will be successful since in late 2020 they found that the initial group released in early 2019 had produced young iguanas, and a number of dens and nesting zones were found containing between one and 20 eggs. In addition, they were found to have plenty of their natural foods.

The management measures being taken in the archipelago, especially related to controlling and eliminating species introduced on Seymour Norte such as rodents, along with hogs, burros and goats on Santiago, have allowed the iguana population in those unique island ecosystems to remain healthy.

The Galapagos Islands, registered by UNESCO in 1978 as a World Heritage Site because of its unique terrestrial and marine ecosystem, is located about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of Ecuador’s Pacific coast.


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