Report submitted by
Rosanna Carreras De León, Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo
Stesha Pasachnik, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Photos by Rosanna Carreras De León unless otherwise noted.
Local conservation efforts for Hispaniolan iguanas have increased in the last decade, with the efforts of San Diego Zoo, IIF, INTEC University and primarily the Dominican NGO Grupo Jaragua. However, the majority of these efforts has focused on Cyclura ricordii and has neglected Cyclura cornuta, though both species are endemic to the island and are threatened. Though C. ricordii is listed as Critically Endangered and C. cornuta as Vulnerable, recent evidence suggests C. cornuta is declining at alarming rates, due to exploitation for food and the pet trade, and habitat destruction for charcoal production, farming, and development. We thus began a variety of projects focusing on the ecology and genetics of C. cornuta in 2012. Specifically, studies concerning population genetic structure, range distribution and current threats, nesting ecology, and hatchling dispersal are underway. During our investigations it became clear that captive breeding facilities, called iguanarios, posed an additional threat to the species. There is no attention given to the origin of these individuals as they are moved from place to place. Individuals are being relocated throughout the country without considering proper management and husbandry, or genetics.
Our preliminary genetic results for C. cornuta suggest that there are multiple haplotypes distributed across the country and that the majority of iguanas in captivity are not from their respective area but are mostly from a popular hunting location in the southwest. The majority of iguanarios occur in the southeast. The genetic consequences of potential hybridization between populations of C. cornuta from extreme sides of the Dominican Republic, as well as the haphazard release of offspring and at times adults without any follow up and organization, could be detrimental. In addition, the need to eradicate the now widely distributed invasive Common Green Iguana makes conservation efforts for the native iguanas confusing to local communities, though it is immensely important to the native iguanas and other native flora and fauna. Last year, we began a movement to bring these iguanarios together and build capacity through education and outreach, such that these facilities may serve as education and conservation centers.
Education is vital to achieving proper management of this species. Our first workshop aimed at addressing the various husbandry, ecological, and genetic hazards posed by the iguanarios was held in 2014 and was a huge success. To continue addressing these issues we conducted site visits of all the known iguanarios and held a second workshop in Punta Cana Ecological Reserve located in the Higuey province, from June 17 to 20, 2015. Our site visits focused on assessing the improvements made and continued issues facing the iguanarios. The workshop focused on: 1) promoting the best available iguana husbandry and management practices among the staff and administrators of the different iguanarios, and 2) collaborating with educators to improve the content of the educational materials.
Accomplishments. We conducted site visits of each iguanario during the spring of 2015 in order to follow up with the objectives and directions given in the 2014 workshop. We evaluated each facility to determine if improvements were made in basic husbandry techniques and gathered information regarding what issues are continuing and how we can aid these facilities in the future.
We had previously collected DNA samples from all known iguanarios. This year we discovered a new facility located in Rancho Outback Adventure in Anamuyá, Higuey, and collected DNA from all their individuals. We also marked each individual with bead and PIT tags in order to identify the individuals.
We held a second workshop in June 2015 (see details below). Given that this was a follow-up workshop, we provided a more detailed level of information and focused on more specific needs for each facility (concentrating on ideas gathered through our site visits). We continued to reinforce many of the same ideas and methods, with hands-on training. We invited a guest speaker, Miguel Garcia, to discuss what it takes to have a proper captive breeding facility for conservation.
We had each iguanario complete a self- and group-evaluation of their facilities and each other’s facilities, encouraging team-work and advancement of each person’s expertise. We re-enforced the potential impact that Common Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) may have in the Dominican Republic with an invited speaker Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, from Puerto Rico.
Site Visits. Each iguanario visited was evaluated based on their improvements and/or changes in the following areas: iguana nutrition, facility improvements, quarantine, manipulation, medical attention, record keeping, reproductive control, accidental and/or intended release, education and eco-touristic initiatives. The overall impressions from the given criteria are as follows:
1) The iguanarios made significant positive changes in the nutrition for their iguanas, including the removal of dog food and lettuce and the incorporation of some of the recommended vegetables.
2) The facilities did not face any complicated medical emergencies in the year since the first workshop.
3) Some of these facilities have a high eco-tourism value; the revenue from which they depend on.
4) Reproductive control remains a great problem in the two biggest iguanarios, Manatí Park and Cuevas de las Maravillas, where thousands of iguanas are kept in captivity. Drastic measures need to be taken in these facilities if they are to be able to maintain proper care and reduce the threat they are posing to the wild populations in their respective areas. We recommend that the Ministry of the Environment get involved in managing these situations. The smaller iguanarios seem to be managing reproductive control, though they need to continue to stay on top of these measures. The iguanario Los Tocones in Samaná, was able to completely stop reproduction in their facility due to the relocation of the iguanas.
5) Smaller iguanarios in the north of the country, Rudy’s and Jungle Tours, which maintain iguanas for exhibition, including the invasive Green Iguana, still present very poor conditions for the animals.
6) A serious problem remaining for all iguanarios is record keeping. The majority of facilities do not keep any records of each individual, breeding events, releases, injuries, growth, etc.
7) Accidental escapes and intended liberations continue to occur, particularly in the larger facilities. This is a topic that will require continued education efforts concerning genetics, outbreeding depression, and local adaptation.
8) Invasive Green Iguanas are being kept, and even with the intention to breed in at least one case (Manatí Park), though it is illegal to do so in the country. Again, it is recommended that the government take action in this case.
Workshop 2015. With the collaboration of the Punta Cana Ecological Reserve and Grupo Jaragua, 13 institutions directly related to iguanarios in the Dominican Republic participated in the second workshop, for a total of 24 participants between managers and educators. Participants attended from the following organizations: Acuario Nacional, Cap Cana Escape Park, Cuevas de las Maravillas, Grupo Jaragua, Los Tocones (Samaná), Rancho Outback Adventure (Anamuyá), Reserva Ecológica Punta Cana, SEAVIS Tour (Tanamá Bayahibe), Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola, Zoológico Dominicano.
The workshop included topics on the species’ biology, conservation threats, evolution, and natural history. In depth topics were covered in the areas of: conservation biology, iguanario genetic analysis, husbandry, conservation management, head-start and reintroduction programs for other Cyclura species, and the Green Iguana as an invasive species. For more details, see ISG Newsletter Vol. 15.
Given the variety of topics covered, we included five experts leading this event:
Rosanna Carreras, INTEC Universtity – Iguana ecology and conservation
Stesha Pasachnik, San Diego Zoo – Iguana manipulation and field techniques
Miguel García, Puerto Rico Ministry of Environment – Mona Island Iguana Project
Ricardo López, Puerto Rico Ministry of Environment – Green Iguana as an invasive species
Eveling Gavot, ZOODOM – Captive management
Several group activities were performed to increase teamwork and to allow each participant to be directly involved in the evaluation of each iguanario and the decisions to improve the conservation of the species. They were also asked to brainstorm ideas for implementing an Iguanario Management Plan. The group participated in a hands-on activity for iguana handling and field techniques, and wrapped up with a session to share ideas and concerns gleaned during the workshop.
Post-Workshop Presentation. An oral presentation was given at the XI International Congress of Scientific Research (in Spanish: XI Congreso Internacional de Investigación Científica) by Rosanna Carreras De León and Stesha A. Pasachnik entitled “Husbandry and education capacity building to support Cyclura conservation in the Dominican Republic” during June 10-12, 2015 at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.