The population of the Anegada Iguana, Cyclura pinguis, has been severely reduced in the past thirty years, with an estimated 200-500 individuals remaining. Ranked Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, most of the present population survives on tiny Anegada Island, in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Several small introduced populations on privately owned islands in the BVI also exist. Development and the introduction of non-native species are threatening the long-term survival of this species. The principal threat is the large number of feral cats that prey upon newly emerged hatchling iguanas, resulting in virtually no recruitment (or survival to adult ranks). The Iguana Specialist Group (ISG) and the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust (BVINPT) initiated a headstart program in 1997 to help offset this high juvenile mortality until the problem of feral cats could be mitigated. Each year, wild-collected hatchlings are brought into a captive facility on Anegada and released back to the wild once they have reached a larger, less vulnerable size. Over the years the International Iguana Foundation (IIF) has invested in nest site surveys, hatchling collection, and refining the headstart and release strategy in order to improve this species’ chance for survival.
Staff from the Dallas, San Diego, and Fort Worth Zoos have worked closely with the BVINPT to save this unique species. The first goal was to document the location of the remaining population and key nesting sites. The second objective was to monitor the first iguanas released from the headstart facility. The team confirmed long-term survival of headstarted iguanas and determined that iguanas as small as 400 grams could survive in the wild with feral cats. This key result reduced the time individuals spend in captivity and maximized the number of iguanas brought through the facility each year. To date over 120 headstarted iguanas have been released back to the wild, with two year survivorship estimated at ~85%. The third objective was to compile a database of all known iguana retreats. Each year, surveys are conducted to verify the activity status of each retreat as well as to locate new retreats. This past year a new burrow-scope was used to document the structure and ecology of the burrows.
Finally, in 2006 Island Conservation joined the project and created a mammal eradication plan for Anegada. However this plan will be extremely costly to implement and it could be years before the funds become available.
A highly celebrated and long-awaited accomplishment is the recent passage of a proposed national park by the BVI Cabinet. The park’s ultimate passage in the House of Assembly in 2009 will create a protected area on Anegada that encompasses the core iguana area located around the western ponds. The establishment of this National Park will provide much needed protection for all of the currently known iguana retreats and all but one key nesting site. The Anegada National Park is 27 years in the making and represents what can be accomplished for conservation by in-country and international partnerships. The ISG contributed key data used to assess the area and outline its boundaries. The ISG, BVINPT, and the IIF look forward to the final realization of this national park – considered to be one of the most important actions that can occur to save the Anegada Iguana.