Pink Iguanas are making a comeback in the Galapagos

The Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador are a biodiversity playground. Particularly famous for its role in helping Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution in the 1830s and 1840s, it is home to many species found nowhere else on the planet. Giant tortoises, flightless cormorants and three species of land iguanas are just some of the many animals that call these islands home.

One land iguana species is the critically endangered Galápagos Pink Land Iguana (Conolophus marthae), which is only found on Isabela Island, one of the 13 larger islands in the archipelago. First discovered in 1986 and identified as a new species in 2009, there are only about 200 to 300 of these photogenic reptiles on Isabela Island.

[Related: Rare, storied pink iguana discovered.]

For the first time since researchers found the species, hatchling and juvenile populations of the Galápagos Pink Iguana have been found. The iguanas live along the slopes of Isabela Island’s Wolf Volcano and reach up to 18.5 inches long.

“This discovery marks an important step forward, allowing us to identify a path forward to save the pink iguana,” Danny Rueda, head of Galápagos National Park, said in a statement.

One of the most remote sites monitored by the Galápagos National Park, Wolf Volcano is home to a research and monitoring station at its base. It is a two day trek to the volcano where this last surviving Rosa Iguana population lives.

According to the park, they are threatened by introduced species on the island, especially rodents and exotic feral cats. Trail cameras have caught cats hunting young iguanas. According to the park, the young iguanas are easy prey after spending days digging out of their underground nests. The research team suspects that cats have prevented young animals from being introduced into the adult pink iguana population for over several years.

“Knowing all the aspects that make their existence vulnerable will allow us to take quick measures, mainly against invasive species and thus avoid interrupting the natural cycles of these fragile ecosystems,” said Rueda.

[Related: The Galapagos might stay cool as the world heats up.]

Since October 2021, the Iniciativa Galápagos initiative between the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Conservancy has launched seven expeditions to better understand their status and threats. The trail cameras around the volcano have now documented evidence of pink iguana nesting activities. In addition, the permanent field station at Wolf Volcano has a 360-degree view that can help protect against wildlife trafficking and illegal poaching.

“The discovery of the first nest and young pink iguanas along with evidence of the critical threats to their survival have also given us the first hope of saving this enigmatic species from extinction,” said Paul Salaman, president of the Galápagos Conservancy, in a statement. “And we are so proud of our partnership with the Galápagos National Park which has once again resulted in a major step forward in saving the precious and unique biodiversity of the Galápagos. Now our work to save the pink iguana begins.”

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