Headstarting and Release
An effective crisis conservation measure for rebuilding depleted population
Headstarting is a technique used in cases where high juvenile mortality in the wild – usually a result from introduced predators such as cats or mongoose – threaten the survival of that species. Sufficient hatchlings are not surviving to adult size to replenish the population. To alleviate this, biologists protect natural nest sites, and then collect hatchling iguanas and move them to the safe confines of captivity until they are large enough to survive predator attacks. Since the IIF was formed in 2001, we have supported headstarting programs for Jamaican and Anegada Iguanas – building facilities, training keepers, providing veterinary support, and monitoring nutrition and growth. Iguanas raised in these programs have been released and provided the foundation for the recovery of those species in the wild.
Science-based conservation and recovery programs depend on sound research
Over the years the IIF has been one of the leading sources of funding for iguana research. Whether we are documenting threats to iguana populations, determining the optimal-sized iguanas to release into the wild, or assessing habitat suitability, the IIF believes that good science is fundamental to iguana conservation. To save and protect a species, it is first necessary to understand their biology in order to develop a recovery strategy, which is what we did with both Jamaican and Anegada Iguanas. Dedicated field researchers spend countless hours enumerating iguanas and tracking their movements and reproduction to determine if wild populations are growing or declining. For many of the lesser-known species, such as Spiny-tailed Iguanas (genus Ctenosaura) of Mexico and Central America, we know precious little about their ecology and natural history, and in recent years the IIF has supported important new research on at least seven species of Ctenosaura, however much remains to be learned.
Investing in our partners and the future of iguanas
The IIF is committed to the idea that the future survival of wild iguana populations clearly rests with the local people with whom they share their habitat. By identifying caring local partners that are committed to protecting iguanas, and then providing them with the necessary training and resources to become effective stewards, the IIF is investing in the future. Over the years the IIF has funded training workshops and opportunities for local conservation groups, and is proud to support the annual meeting of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group that brings iguana biologists together to exchange ideas, and often catalyzes new conservation initiatives.
Investing in the next generations
From supporting soccer teams in Jamaica to organizing iguana festivals in Anegada, the IIF is firmly committed to increasing awareness for iguanas and their habitats among youth groups. Because investing time and resources in the next generation is, we believe, the best chance we have of getting people to value a future with iguanas.
Creating new wild populations by moving iguanas out of harm’s way
Translocations are an effective strategy for creating new populations of wild iguanas in safe and suitable habitats, thus allowing their numbers to expand naturally. This technique has proven valuable in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) where iguanas were moved from Big Ambergris Cay, which is undergoing rapid development and loss of iguana habitat, to several small uninhabited cays within their natural range. The IIF supported this translocation, and is also funding research to study the effects of translocation on home range, movements, and stress in TCI iguanas.
Land purchases protect critical iguana habitat
Sometimes buying land is the only way to effectively ensure its protection and make sure that it remains viable habitat for iguanas. In recent years the IIF purchased two such parcels of land in the Dominican Republic, totaling nearly 70 acres, both of which were deemed important nesting grounds for the Critically Endangered Ricord’s Iguana. Otherwise the habitat would have been converted for agriculture or cattle grazing and lost to the iguanas. One of the parcels had been previously cleared and required restoration to bring back large prickly pear tree cactus, the fruits of which comprise an important seasonal food source for iguanas.