The Jamaican Iguana (Cyclura collei) is the island’s largest native animal, reaching a length of up to five feet. They are dark-coloured with long tails and triangular spikes running along the length of their spines. Their scales can be grey, blue, brown or green. Their diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables and leaves.
The Jamaican Iguana helps to disperse partially digested seeds through their waste across their habitats. This helps the seeds to sprout faster than they would unaided, leading to rapid re-population of plant species.
The animals were once a thriving species and inhabited much of the island, mostly on its coasts, until the mid-1800s. The population declined drastically due to hostile predators, such as mongooses, cats and stray dogs. Additionally, activities like cutting down trees and clearing land for housing and farming contributed to the elimination of many iguanas.
The species was declared extinct in 1948. However, in 1990, the animals were rediscovered in a remote area in the Hellshire Hills, Portmore, St. Catherine. Thus, an intense effort to recover the species and rebuild the population began.
Through the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Programme, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which is tasked with managing and protecting Jamaica’s biodiversity, aims to release 1,000 iguanas in the Hellshire Hills by 2026, having begun the process in 1996. NEPA, in partnership with the Hope Zoo, aims to increase the iguana population through:
- monitoring – this involves observing the animals to better understand the occurrence, distribution and status of the population. Information gathered is used to guide conservation plans.
- predator control – this solution comprises removing a percentage of the predator specie(s), such as stray dogs, from the iguana’s natural habitat in order to protect them.
- supplementation – this involves creating and maintaining viable, artificial nesting sites for the iguanas.
Further, the Government of Jamaica has given special legislative protection to the animal to ensure its continued survival. Under the Wild Life Protection Act, it is illegal to possess or harm the Jamaican Iguana.
In efforts to bolster the programme and ensure its success, NEPA has also placed several iguanas in overseas zoos for safekeeping. Therefore, should any disease wipe out the local iguana population, they can be reintroduced.
For additional information, contact:
National Environment and Planning Agency
10-11 Caledonia Avenue
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