An endangered species making a comeback
Hi, my name is Kyle and I’m a Keeper II in the Herpetology Department at Zoo Atlanta. Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. So for this week’s keeper story, I’d like to talk to you about some amazing iguanas I have the pleasure of taking care of.
Jamaican iguanas are a large, colorful lizard found on Jamaica. They are actually Jamaica’s largest native land animal. Jamaican iguanas eat a variety of different plants and occasionally will opportunistically eat insects, small mammals, and even other small reptiles. Females are communal nesters and dig burrows with other females. They will then defend the burrows and nest sites together for a few days prior to and after laying eggs.
Jamaican iguanas were once native to all of Jamaica and the small islands surrounding Jamaica. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and the introduction of invasive mongooses, these iguanas are now only found in one small area of Jamaica called the Hellshire Hills and are considered critically endangered. Once thought to be extinct in the 1940s, a small population of Jamaican iguanas were found in 1990. The Jamaican iguana recovery group was then started to help save these amazing reptiles.
The recovery group began a head-start (raising young iguanas to an older age before releasing to increase survival chances) and reintroduction program with Hope Zoo in Jamaica. The first reintroductions stared in 1996, had a high survival rate, and the population has begun to make a comeback since then.
Zoo Atlanta is home to three Jamaican iguanas. The breeding pair is housed in our behind-the-scenes area so we can closely monitor breeding behaviors as part of a Species Survival Plan®(SSP) breeding recommendation. But don’t worry, you can still see our other beautiful female in Scaly Slimy Spectacular. We hope to see you visit soon!
Keeper II, Herpetology