Saving Jamaican Iguanas: A Zoo staffer helps save rock iguanas

Dawn Fleuchaus has been traveling to Jamaica every summer since 2000 to participate in field research to help the endangered Jamaican rock iguana. Fleuchaus is area supervisor of the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Australian and North America areas (as of April 2009).

Rock iguana research is just one of the iguana conservation programs that the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) supports. The ZSM has been a long-time supporter of Caribbean rock iguanas.  In 1995 the ZSM provided $14,000 to fund a head-start facility critical for the survival of the iguana species on Grand Cayman Island. The Milwaukee County Zoo has also been a longtime supporter of rock iguana conservation in the genus Cyclura. Since 2003, this support has increased with the addition of fieldwork studies of the Grand Cayman blue iguana and Jamaican iguana. In 2000 the Milwaukee County Zoo received an International Conservation Award for contributions to iguana conservation.

Blue iguanas are one of the most endangered lizard species in the world. A 2003 census indicated that there might have been as few as 12 blue iguanas in the wild. Because of the efforts of several zoos, the population is now estimated to number more than 200. Once thought to be extinct in the wild, the Jamaican iguana is still very much in peril. In 2006 the number of known breeding females increased by 10%, from 17 to 19 females. 

Our Zoo has participated in the fieldwork for this collaborative effort, resulting in successful releases of captive-hatched, head-started iguanas back into the wilds of Grand Cayman and Jamaica.  Also, through observations and radio-tracking, data has been collected for the first time on the habits of these rare species from both head-started released iguanas and free-ranging wild individuals. More fieldwork is scheduled, and our Zoo will be sending additional staff to assist. They spend most of their time radio-tracking and nest monitoring these iguanas in some of the most inhospitable places on the Earth. (It is the nature of the topography that has kept these animals from extinction.) 

Most of the ZSM’s funding for this program has paid for the travel expenses and lodging for zookeepers who assist the recovery programs. Funds also were used to purchase much-needed materials and equipment for the project, such as GPS units and quality hand tools.
Milwaukee County Zoo Project manager: Craig Berg, aquarium and reptile curator.

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Animal(s) being conserved/studied: Rock iguanas
Alive issue: Winter 2007

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