Protecting the iguana

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

In 2004, the Roatan spiny-tailed iguana, Ctenosaura oedirhina, was listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. In March 2010, C. oedirhina, along with 12 other iguana species native to Central America were included in the CITES Appendix II listing due to their recent appearance in the international pet trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Species assigned to the Appendix I are those threatened with extinction, and trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Those listed in Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled. 

Currently there is a lack of information about the spiny-tailed iguana, including all aspects of the basic biology as well as population size, extent of occurrence, and threats. It is estimated that only 5,000 individuals remain in the wild on Roatan, with a proportion of these residing at Sherman Arch’s iguana and Marine Park in French Cay. Iguanas play an important role in the regeneration of forests, with a species in Costa Rica recognized as being among the main seed dispersers for some plants of a deciduous forest.

As you travel around Roatan, you will often notice kids walking down the streets carrying iguanas or ladies offering iguana stew. While hunting of iguana is prohibited by law, there are no real active means of protection or management at national or local level. For a species on the Critically Endangered List, very little is done to protect these animals. Threatened by over-exploitation for local consumption, habitat destruction, and collection for the international pet trade, why do we not do more to protect them? How can it be illegal to hunt these animals, yet serving iguanas on menus results in no reprisal? Sadly only once species disappear do we recognize the wrongs of our ways. To protect the iguana for future generations, our government must take active steps in protecting them.