The endangered Turks and Caicos iguana (Cyclura carinata) is the smallest of eight species of Caribbean rock iguanas, all of which are threatened with extinction. Increasing land development in the region has led to habitat destruction and expanding populations of introduced predators, particularly domestic cats and dogs. As a result, the Turks and Caicos iguana is found on an increasingly smaller number of cays in the Turks and Caicos Islands, in an area encompassing only 5% of its historic range.
In 2000, a project was initiated by postdoctoral millennium fellow Glenn Gerber, of the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES), to restore populations of this species to several protected islands. In 2002 and 2003, a total of 218 animals were safely relocated to protected translocation cays. Physical exams, complete blood counts, serum chemistries, serum cortisol levels, and body measurements were performed prior to, and following, translocation. Captured animals with poor body condition or evidence of ongoing infectious processes were eliminated from the translocation group.
Follow-up studies have shown a remarkable 98% survival rate among translocated animals. Nesting behavior and hatchlings have been documented on each of the translocation cays. Juveniles hatched on translocation cays have demonstrated considerably faster growth rates and earlier age of sexual maturity than juveniles hatched on source cays. Education efforts by CRES, and collaboration with government officials and local private businesses, have helped to make the Turks and Caicos iguana a flagship species for environmental conservation in the region.
Funding for this project was provided by the Zoological Society of San Diego, the Offield Family Foundation, the Steven and Carole Weinberg Foundation, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.