The Central Fijian Banded Iguana is one of a handful of endangered iguana species found on several islands in the Fiji archipelago. The Banded Iguana has been in decline for several decades in the wild and none of its known populations are considered secure. The current total population is roughly estimated to be 6,000 individuals scattered across the central Fijian islands. If the current situation continues, additional island extinctions will likely occur.
The leading causes of endangerment are habitat destruction (forest burning, logging, fragmentation, agricultural expansion, and mining) and the presence of invasive predators (Black Rat, Indian Mongoose, and feral cats). Banded Iguanas are particularly vulnerable to predation when coming to the ground to nest and lay eggs; otherwise they live an arboreal lifestyle. Free-ranging goats – and goat herding practices, such as fire burning – are of particular concern on smaller islands as they destroy the iguana’s food sources. Although fully protected by CITES Appendix I (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), the poaching and trafficking of Fiji’s iguanas for the commercial pet trade has emerged as a potential threat to their survival. Fijian iguanas are sometimes publically offered for sale in the European, Asian, and U.S. hobbyist pet trade, although those animals or their parents were illegally collected and smuggled out of the country, since Fiji has not issued non-zoo export permits. While hunted by humans in previous centuries for food, this practice appears to have ceased, although collection for local pet ownership may be an issue in some places.
The IIF has been funding small-scale research projects for Fijian iguanas since 2009. Currently, we are supporting the preparation of a recovery plan for all of Fiji’s iguana species, which will highlight specific conservation threats, and the actions necessary to improve their survival. Previous IIF grants have included tree canopy surveys, breeding site assessments, and conservation genetics analyses. Further conservation recommendations will certainly focus on invasive predator control, habitat protection, improved forestry and agricultural practices, additional conservation genetics, and education and outreach to local communities.