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48 crested iguanas released in the wild

Kalesi Mele
Monday, February 27, 2017

A TOTAL of 48 crested iguanas that were bred in captivity were released back into the wild on Monuriki Island in the Mamanuca's on Friday.

This marked one of the first successful programs around the Pacific where animals bred in captivity were reintroduced to wild life.

The project which took seven years was a collaboration between the National Trust of Fiji and mataqali Vunaivi of Yanuya Village who are owners of Monuriki Island.

Observations made several years ago by iguana specialists found that iguanas on the island were on the verge of extinction.

This was largely because of rodents eating their eggs and hatchlings and goats eating vegetation which they depended on for survival.

Fiji is home to several unique species of iguanas found nowhere else on earth.

Crested iguanas from Monuriki Island have a distinctive genetic imprint that tells them apart from iguanas found in other parts of the country.

National Trust of Fiji (NTF) projects officer Jone Niukula said in 2010 they collaborated with Birdlife International in eradicating the rodents and goats.

The same year they had captured 20 iguanas from the Island which they took to Kula Wild Adventure Park to breed.

In 2015, 32 iguanas produced in captivity were released into the wild.

On Friday, 17 of the 20 iguanas that survived were returned to their original home and put back on the trees they were brought from along with 31 of their offsprings.

"We are grateful to the villagers of Yanuya for allowing us to conduct the project and their commitment in conserving and protecting the iguanas and their habitat," he said.

"We also understand the iguanas are also one of the tourist attractions that generates revenue for villages which reinforces the need for their protection."

NTF executive board member Craig Powell said the villagers commitment makes them forerunners, paving the way for other villages and communities to engage in conservation efforts.

"I think it's wonderful that we can work together for an important cause and promote the sustainability of an important species,"he said.

"Our coexistence with nature is very critical.

"I think people are starting to slowly realise that we need to look after mother nature and what it has given us."

For the next six months iguana specialists will monitor the iguanas to gauge if they are thriving in their new environment.

Other stakeholders that have been part of the initiative include NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, Fiji government agencies, the US Geological Survey, the Pacific Invasives Initiative, Taronga Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, University of Oklahoma, Durrell Conservation Academy and the International Iguana Foundation.








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