In the dry forests of southeast Haiti, researchers have finally gotten a rare opportunity to recover a group of hatchling Ricord’s Iguanas (Cyclura ricordii). In August 2012, Dr. Masani Accimé, field assistant Jose Luis Castillo, and habitat monitoring team members Evanita Sanon, Johnny Jeudy, and Junior Toussaint, for the first time ever in Haiti, captured 15 hatchling Ricord’s Iguanas in Anse-à-Pitres, a small town on the southern border with the Dominican Republic. The hatchlings were processed – which includes weighing, measuring, collecting genetic samples, and micro-chipping (inserting an electronic permanent ID that can be read with a scanner). The hatchlings were then released near the nesting site, an area that includes limestone hills with plenty of crevices and hiding places.
The species is ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and was known from only three small sub-populations in the Dominican Republic. The species was not known to exist in Haiti until it was discovered in 2007. Since then, much work has been done to help the species, including implementation of a surveillance program for the fragile habitat by a team of local Haitians, and close monitoring of the nesting activity in the only known nesting site in Haiti.
Attempts to capture hatchlings failed last year, as the sandy habitat makes it difficult to identify exact nest locations and emergence holes. Poaching of nests has also been a problem recently. Ricord’s Iguanas reproduce once annually, and can lay up to 24 eggs in a nest, depending on many factors, including age and availability of food. The forests of Haiti are among the most threatened in the world, with only 2% of forest left in the entire country, and forests continually being cut down for charcoal production and sustenance agriculture. Since the discovery of this small population of Ricord’s Iguanas in Haiti just five years ago, the International Iguana Foundation, working in concert with the Dominican conservation NGO Grupo Jaragua, has spear-headed a grassroots effort to protect this small but important population. The goal is to help the local government of the small coastal town of Anse-à-Pitres to declare Ricord’s Iguanas and their habitat protected, which should be a more effective way to prevent poaching.
The IIF wishes to thank the following agencies for their support for this program: USFWS Wildlife Without Borders program, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.