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Pink iguana

New discovery gives hope for saving the critically endangered pink iguana

As part of the actions of the “Galapagos Initiative” and as a result of joint expeditions between the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the Galapagos Conservancy, among other aspects of the natural history of the pink iguana (Conolophus marthae), we recorded, both when the nesting season occurs and the location of the nesting areas and located and photographed, in the vicinity, the first observed offspring of this species in its different stages of development. Unfortunately, camera trap surveys in the nesting area reveal that feral cats are preying on juveniles as they emerge from their subway nests. This discovery is a significant breakthrough in identifying a way to save the pink iguana.

Pink Iguana
First-ever photos of juvenile Pink Iguanas showing characteristic striping © GNPD / Galápagos Conservancy
Pink Iguana Nesting Site
Photo of the first documented nesting site by Pink Iguanas © GNPD / Galápagos Conservancy
Over the past 10 months, a team from the GNPD and Galapagos Conservancy, made up of park rangers Johanes Ramirez and Jean Pierre Cadena along with Mario Yepez, Adrian Cueva and members of the Galapagos Conservancy conservation team, undertook a series of expeditions to the remote Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island in search of pink iguanas.
It takes two days to climb the volcano and reach the site of the last surviving population of pink iguanas. Since the discovery of this new species in 2009, the total population is currently estimated to be around 200-300 adults, and until now no juveniles have been documented. With a dwindling adult population, there is worldwide concern that this species is rapidly approaching extinction.

Since the “Galapagos Initiative” announced in October 2021 to bring together the efforts of the GNPD and the Galapagos Conservancy to help save the pink iguana, seven expeditions have been conducted to assess the current status and identify the threats facing the species; in recent months, the team documented nesting sites and detected active nests as well as hatchlings and juvenile iguanas of different ages.

Non-native feral cats preying on Pink Iguana hatchlings
Non-native feral cats preying on Pink Iguana hatchlings. © GNPD / Galápagos Conservancy

Genetic analysis to confirm the identification of juvenile pink iguanas is ongoing, while camera traps deployed by the team throughout the volcano have documented ample evidence of pink iguana mating and nesting activity, and even potential competition with conspecifics with whom they share Wolf Volcano’s habitat.

At the same time, there is great concern about the abundant presence of feral cats in the iguana’s living and nesting areas, representing a serious threat to these reptiles in their most critical and vulnerable phase, being currently considered one of the main causes for the lack of documented recruitment in the pink iguana population.

The Galapagos Initiative is now urgently focused on providing greater facilities for monitoring, research and protection of the pink iguana nesting areas through the implementation of a permanent station, funded by the Galapagos Conservancy, on the summit of the volcano with 360 degree visibility.

Danny Rueda, Director of the Galapagos National Park, thanked the Galapagos Conservancy for their support and assured that “this remote base will facilitate the conservation and monitoring work on the volcano, especially to guarantee the conservation and restoration of the pink iguana population”.