Galapagos land iguana returns to Santiago Island after 200-year absence

January 9, 2019, 10:17 a.m.
A Galapagos land iguana sits on a grassy island slope
Photo: Samuel Meylan/Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back, iguanas!

A group of more than 1,400 land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) were reintroduced to Santiago Island as part of an ecological restoration project at the National Galapagos Park in Ecuador, the park announced on Jan. 7. The iguanas came from North Seymour Island, another of the 18 islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago.

British naturalist Charles Darwin was the last person to officially see a land iguana on Santiago Island in 1835. Not long after, invasive predators like the feral pig wiped out the lizards.

"Almost two centuries later, this ecosystem will once again count on this species through the restoration initiative," said the park authority, according to Agence France-Presse.

The reintroduction project started late in 2018 when park rangers captured iguanas and transferred them to Santa Cruz Island for health checks before moving them to Santiago Island. Rangers released the iguanas to coastal areas that have ecosystems similar to what they're used to on North Seymour Island.

Starting in February, rangers will determine how well the iguanas are doing in their new home by seeing if they're setting up nests and what plants the animals seem to favor, among other data points.

In addition to bringing back iguanas to the Galapagos, the move helps the iguanas survive as well. North Seymour Island experienced a loss of vegetation, particularly cactus, the primary source of food for iguanas on that island.

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