Grand Cayman Blue Iguana

Lizards can be found on every continent except Antarctica and can live in almost any habitat. There are more than 4,000 lizard species around the world, ranging from chameleons to geckos. Certain species of iguanas top the list of the most endangered lizards, threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and harvesting by humans.

August 14 marks World Lizard Day. To help you celebrate, here is a closer look at the iguanas that need our help and what you can do to make a difference for the threatened lizards.

Endangered Iguanas

Tommy Owens, a keeper at the San Diego Zoo, says that the most endangered lizards are West Indian rock iguanas. Rock iguanas are foundf in the Caribbean; human settlement is responsible for lowering their numbers. The following are three of the more endangered rock iguanas.

Jamaican Iguana: The Jamaican iguana is currently listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) red list of threatened species. It is found in the tropical forests of Jamaica’s Hellshire Hills and was thought to be extinct in the 1940s before being rediscovered in 1990. Deforestation and invasive species like mongooses and pigs threaten the population. Fortunately, the San Diego Zoo successfully bred the iguana in captivity for the first time last year.

Anegada Iguana: Found only on Anegada in the British Virgin Islands, this iguana is also critically endangered. It used to inhabit some of Puerto Rico’s islands but now has a restricted range. Major threats to the species include feral predators and competition for food from livestock. The combined efforts of and partnership among the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust and the Fort Worth Zoo have led to the raising and release of 179 Anegada iguanas to date, helping boost the wild population. 

Grand Cayman Blue Iguana: Thanks to conservation efforts, this species, which is endemic to Grand Cayman Island, has been downgraded from critically endangered to endangered on the IUCN red list. In 2002, there were fewer than 25 of these iguanas in the wild. In 2012, that number had risen to close to 750. Like the Jamaican iguana, loss of habitat threatens this species as it’s encroached upon by agriculture and tourism. Invasive species such as cats and dogs also threaten the population.The Guatemalan Spiny-Tailed Iguana: According to Owens, this species, which is not a rock iguana, is also in bad shape. The Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana is found in the Motagua Valley. Habitat loss threatens this species too, and it is overharvested by humans for consumption and illegal trade. 

How You Can Help

The San Diego Zoo has successfully bred three of the more endangered lizards — the Jamaican iguana, the Anegada iguana and the Grand Cayman blue iguana — which is helping bring their populations back. There are also other organizations dedicated to conservation efforts, and many of them offer ways you can get involved in saving the iguanas.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Program allows you to sponsor an iguana to support the zoo’s program and donate either money or goods and services. The International Iguana Foundation accepts donations that support conservation programs around the world. Through PayPal you can even specify which species or program you’d like your donation to benefit.

Those who want to get more hands-on with conservation efforts can volunteer their time. The Iguana Specialist Group offers a short-term program in the Dominican Republic, while the Blue Iguana Recovery Program looks for international volunteers for lengths of time ranging from 10 days to one month or longer for repeat volunteers.