Finally, Jamaican Iguanas Hatched in Captivity


After more than 14 years of trying to initiate the breeding of Jamaican Iguanas in captivity, the Hope Zoo in Kingston was finally successful in this endeavour on September 28, when four Cyclura Collie or Jamaican Iguanas were hatched.
To date, Jamaica is the only country, which has managed to achieve this feat with this specie of Iguana. The Philadelphia Zoo in the United States came closest in breeding the Cyclura Collie some time ago, as the eggs were fertilized but failed to reach maturity.
A tour of the Hope Zoo will now reveal three healthy baby Iguanas in their cages, as one unfortunately died after birth.
Curator of the Zoo, Orlando Robinson describes the success of the endeavour as “a big deal”.
“After so many years of trying, we have finally gotten over the hurdle of trying to breed the specie in a confined environment,” he tells JIS News.
Keeper of the Zoo for over 20 years, Ordel Williams expresses his delight at the outcome of the breeding process. He is optimistic that more iguanas could he born when the successful pair have mated again.
Mr. Robinson explains that since the re-discovery of the Cyclura Collie in 1990, numerous efforts have been made to increase their numbers, which included taking their eggs from the wild and hatching them at the Zoo, as well as encouraging mating and breeding of the specie within the confines of the Zoo.
He says that one of the main reasons for encouraging breeding in captivity is to monitor the hatching process and safeguard the eggs and young ones from predators in the wild, who often feed on the reptiles in the early stages of development.
The Curator points out that after reaching a certain state of maturity, when the Iguana can defend itself, it is released into its natural habitat, in this case, the Hellshire Hills, where it is closely monitored by the Field Monitors through the use of a tagging or marking system.
“Contrary to popular belief, the Iguanas are harmless creatures, which will only become fierce and defensive if they are attacked,” he notes.
Mr. Robinson says that each Iguana is tagged for both identification and tracking purposes. Beads placed on the backs of the reptiles are used for identifying each one, while the Pit Tags (chips) are inserted into the skins of the reptiles, which are used to track them while they are living in the wild.
Wild Life Biologist and Co-ordinator for the Biodiversity Branch at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Richard Nelson says that this tracking system has been successful, and it “has shown that 100 per cent or the 50 reptiles released into the wild since 1996 are still alive”.
He attributes this success to the careful monitoring of the specie by the Field Monitors from the University of the West Indies (UWI), NEPA and other conservation groups, which have been conducting Species and Habitat Management in the Hellshire Hills.
Species management, Mr. Nelson explains, allows for the direct monitoring of the animals, while Habitat Management facilitates monitoring of the entire area, which encompasses where the animal population reside, as well as those that are in close proximity to the populated areas.
He points out that species management is most crucial during the months of May to June, when the animals are nesting, and the months of August to September, when hatching takes place. During this time, approximately 50 per cent of the eggs are taken to the Hope Zoo as part of the Head Start Project.
Currently, the Iguanas populate a total of 40 square kilometres of the 114 square Kilometres in the Hellshire Hills that have been declared by NEPA as part of the Portland Bight protected area.
Mr. Nelson says that regulations are currently being drafted to give the area the highest level of protection, which will render it a “Scientific Reserve Area”.
Declaring the area as such, will significantly lessen the threats to the reptiles from predators, such as the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), cats, dogs, pigs and humans.
According to Mr. Nelson, the specie is currently underpopulated, as there are fewer than 300 iguanas both in captivity and in the wild.
In this regard, the Curator says that a number of strategies have been implemented to respond to the various threats to the reptiles.
Chief among them, Mr. Robinson points out, was the commencement of the Head Start Project in 1990, which aims at breeding the endemic Iguana and repatriating them to their natural habitat. Other measures include the establishment of a satellite population at six Zoos in the United States, which comprise the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, the San Diego Zoo in California, Indianapolis Zoo in Indiana, Sedgewick County Zoo in Kansas and the Gladys Porter Zoo in Florida. In addition, he says emphasis has been placed on conducting more field research on their distribution and behaviours in their natural habitat.
Mr. Nelson says there are plans in the future to repopulate the Goat Island with the Iguanas, and also declare it a Reserve Area, since data has shown that the specie once lived on the island.
He notes that repatriation of the specie to the island will be suitable for the reptiles, as it will provide them with the appropriate living conditions. The Iguanas are dry-lime forest animals, and survive best in very hot and dry conditions, frequenting rugged rock areas.
The latest initiative to reproduce the Iguanas within the context of a Zoo was made possible through a grant of US$10,000 from the International Iguana Foundation, which was used to upgrade the breeding facilities at the Hope Zoo. Help has also come through technical assistance with dieting and health screening for the reptiles, under the Head Start Project.
Both local and oversees conservation groups have all been involved in field research, aimed at preserving the specie, especially in their natural habitat. The groups involved are NEPA, the UWI, the Jamaica Iguana Research and Conservation Group, the Iguana Specialist Group and the American Zoo Association Lizard Advisory Group.

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