Tales of the TailsIguana Meet You!

September 8, 2018

Have you ever heard of animals that are on loan to zoos from other countries? We bet the first and only animal that comes to mind is the Giant panda, in which the individuals living in zoos across the world are property of China but are on a ten-year temporary loan to each zoo through grants. China isn’t the only country to do this, as the Virginia Zoo is now home to an animal that is owned by another country’s national government. It’s time to meet the Jamaican iguana.

Jamaican iguanas are large lizards that are only endemic to the island of Jamaica. They are light green and tan in color, which helps them blend into their surroundings. Despite being the largest native land animal in the country, they are among the rarest, as they are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Jamaican iguana was believed to be extinct since the 1940s, but in 1990 it was found in a remote forest spanning less than four miles in southern Jamaica. Although the iguanas’ habitats are protected by Jamaican law, humans continue to illegally cut down trees to create charcoal. This degradation threatens major iguana habitats and nesting sites, and invasive species such as mongooses aid in the decline of iguana populations.

There are only around 200 adult Jamaican iguanas living in their native land, which is why zoos have taken on the responsibility of breeding the reptiles in the hopes of releasing new iguanas into the wild. With the help of breeding programs such as the Association for Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Jamaican iguanas, more than 300 iguanas have been released into the wild to help rebuild depleting populations in Jamaica.

The Virginia Zoo is one of a handful of zoos who have Jamaican iguanas that are part of the SSP. With exhibit availability within the World of Reptiles and to extend on the Zoo’s mission for conservation, a male Jamaican iguana arrived at the Virginia Zoo in May and will eventually be joined by a female. Breeding these animals can be difficult, but Zoo Keepers are up for the challenge and are eager to help bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

The male iguana currently at the Zoo was originally hatched at Zoo Miami on August 29, 2013, before being transferred to the Virginia Zoo earlier this year. He measures around 30 inches long and weighs less than two-and-a-half pounds. The iguana can be found basking on or hiding under the rocks in his exhibit, except for when he is eating.

His diet is handpicked by Zoo Chef Yohn, and consists of one cup of mixed produce twice a week. Chef Yohn mixes up the diet according to what is available but likes to choose from various greens like kale, romaine lettuce or collards and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, apples and grapes. The iguana eats anything from the Diet Kitchen, but likes to indulge in super worms from his Keepers once a week.

The iguana has settled in well and can be seen in his large reptile exhibit in the World of Reptiles. If you haven’t had the chance to visit the Zoo to see our new reptiles and their friends, today’s a great day to come see the male iguana since it’s National Iguana Awareness Day! Show your support with a trip to the newly reopened World of Reptiles or by donating to the Zoo here.