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New iguana species

Geraldine Panapasa
Thursday, June 08, 2017

A NEW species of banded iguana has been discovered in Fiji by researchers and scientists, a revelation that will place a lot of emphasis on the need to conserve and protect the country's unique reptile population.

The discovery of the new species of lizard — Brachylophus gau — was made by researchers and scientists from The National Trust of Fiji, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, US Geological Survey and the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, and as its name suggests, is restricted to Gau Island. The announcement of the new species of banded iguana, which is one of four living species of South Pacific iguana, was made public through Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific mega journal for animal taxonomists, and the US Geological Survey's website.

According to the US Geological Survey, the Brachylophus gau iguana is noticeably different from its peers in physical appearance.

"It has unique colour patterning, including green throats on both males and females, whereas males of other iguana species never have solid green throats," the website said.

"Additionally, it is the smallest known of the species in Fiji, being 13 per cent smaller than the next largest species, and 40 per cent smaller than the largest species."

According to the Zootaxa study, Gau iguanas mostly inhabited the island's large inland forests, which remain relatively intact. The study found that Gau's coastal forests were more degraded than those found at mid-elevations and hosted smaller numbers of these iguanas.

National Trust of Fiji conservation officer Jone Niukula said those iguanas were some of the most amazing species in Fiji.

"Knowing how many species exist is a priority for us because as the national statutory authority for conservation, the National Trust of Fiji has the responsibility for understanding the biodiversity and ensuring its persistence for future generations," Mr Niukula said.

According to the US Geological Survey, the first known recording of iguanas on Gau Island dates back to an expedition in the mid-19th century.

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