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Helping Island Iguanas

The 11 kinds of iguanas that live only on the Caribbean Islands in the Atlantic Ocean are the most endangeredAnimals or plants that survive in such low numbers that they could become extinct in a few years unless something is done to help the populations increase. group of lizards in the world. Like many animals that live on islands, if their habitatWhere an animal or plant normally lives and grows. is destroyed, they have nowhere else to go.


Iguanas are the largest native land animals and important herbivores on most islands where they occur. They eat the fruits, flowers, and leaves of many native plantAny living thing that is not an animal. Plants live on sunlight and water instead of food. Plants generally cannot move on their own, and are not able to smell, hear, see, or touch. speciesA group of individuals that have many of the same characteristics, and are different from all other animals in some important way. Hamsters and mice are two different species of rodent.. When the seeds leave their bodies in their waste, it helps the plants spread through the island. But as the growing human populationThe number of a kind of animal that lives in a place. For example, San Francisco has a big seagull population; New York City has a population of several million people. clears land for houses, farms, and shops, the Caribbean iguanas lose habitatWhere an animal or plant normally lives and grows.. The lizards also have to compete with introduced mammals like goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses. Rats, dogs, and cats, which were also brought to the islands by people, eat iguana eggs and young iguanas.


The San Diego Zoo is working to help Caribbean iguanas with a program called "headstarting." When our researchers locate an iguana nest on the islands, they put a fence around it to keep predators out. Then they collect hatchlings and care for them in large pens until they are big enough to protect themselves from dogs and cats, thus giving them a "headstartA process in which young animals are raised by humans in a safe environment until they are large enough to defend themselves successfully in the wild." in the wild. Combined with other conservationThe wise use, care, and protection of natural resources, including plants and animals. measures, like trapping and removing non-native animals, we hope our efforts will help keep the Caribbean Islands full of iguanas!