1,436 Galapagos land iguanas have been reintroduced to Santiago Island after being absent for almost 200 years. The release comes as part of a project to increase numbers of these endemic iguana, and as a wider initiative to restore the biodiversity of Santiago.
The land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) were transferred from North Seymour Island at the end of last year where the population was over 5,000, which is said to be more than the island can support. The National Galapagos park authority said in a statement that the iguanas were captured and quarantined on Santa Cruz Island before being released into Santiagos coastal areas: Puerto Nuevo and Bucanero on the 3rd and 4th January. These areas are said to have a similar habitat to the one they are accustomed to and an abundance of the vegetation they rely on for food.
The National Parks Ecosystems Director, Danny Rueda says, “The land iguana is a herbivore that helps ecosystems by dispersing seeds and maintaining open spaces devoid of vegetation.”
Prior to their reintroduction, the last living Galapagos land iguanas were recorded on Santiago by Charles Darwin in 1835, during his famous visit to the islands. Since then, the population has been driven to extinction by invasive species, in particular feral pigs, which were eventually eradicated from Santiago in 2001.
The land iguanas have suffered a dramatic decline across the Galapagos Islands as a result of introduced species such as cats, rats, pigs and dogs, which predate their eggs and compete with them for food.
The next stage of the project will begin next month where the newly released iguanas will be intensively monitored to see how well they are adapting to their new home and if they are reproducing successfully.