Utila spiny-tailed iguana
This fascinating reptile is found only in a tiny (8 km²) area of mangrove forest on the island of Utila off Honduras. The development of the region for tourism has led to habitat loss as areas are cleared for construction and contaminated by waste, and the remaining mangroves are fragmented and have been invaded by introduced plants, which cover the ground and make the habitat unsuitable for females to lay their eggs. The iguana is also hunted for meat, and only around 10,000 are thought to remain.
Spiny-tailed iguanas are one of only two lizard species that live exclusively in mangrove swamps. They nest on sandy beaches and the young move into the mangrove swamps when they hatch. The youngsters are darker in colour than the adults, enabling them to hide from predators. Once they reach the age of about one year they take up the arboreal life of adults. They eat a mostly herbivorous diet but sometimes take smaller animals, eggs and insects.
Males are larger than females, growing up to 30 cm in length, and have a dorsal crest made up of 56 large black and white spines.
The species is protected by Honduran law: there is a ban on hunting and education campaigns have reduced demand. Several organisations are collaborating on a conservation programme in the country, trying to protect habitat and “head-start” iguana hatchlings in a captive facility, protecting them until they are better able to cope in the wild. Conservationists also work with developers to choose building sites that preserve as much undisturbed beach as possible so that the iguanas can continue to lay and hatch their eggs successfully.
Durrell is one of a group of organisations breeding spiny-tailed iguanas in captivity to ensure that the species will survive even if more animals are lost to hunting or hurricanes.