Page last updated at 08:59 GMT, Friday, 27 October 2006 09:59 UK

Breeding success for rare lizards

Blue iguana (Image: Matt Goetz/Durrell)
Wild blue iguanas are not expected to survive another decade

Conservationists are celebrating success in a captive-breeding programme that aims to save the world's rarest lizard from extinction.

Three eggs laid by a Grand Cayman blue iguana that had been released into a nature reserve on the Caribbean island have successfully hatched.

Since 2004, 219 captive-bred iguanas have been released in an attempt to save the critically endangered species.

The wild population of blue iguanas is expected to be extinct within 10 years.

"The animals we released in 2004 are now coming into sexual maturity," said Matt Goetz, deputy head of herpetology at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Hatched eggs (Image: Matt Goetz/Durrell)
The hatched eggs are a sign of the breeding programme's success

"This year, we were delighted to discover three nests within the nature reserve," he added.

The Jersey-based trust is one of the six permanent partners of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, which has been operating since 1990.

The scheme releases iguanas into the island's Salina nature reserve when the animals are about two or three years old, once they are large enough not to be eaten by snakes.

"We can now confirm that all three eggs in one of these nests have hatched, which marks a major step forward in securing the survival of these animals," Mr Goetz said.

"Hopefully, the eggs laid at the other sites will be following suit soon."

Habitat threat

Map of Cayman Islands (Image: BBC)

Blue iguanas (Cyclura lewisi) are classified as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The union's Red List of threatened species says the main threat to these animals is the destruction of their habitat.

Between 1993-2002, land occupied by the creatures halved, and the wild population fell by 80%.

The conversion of traditional fruit farms to cattle grazing areas, illegal capture and non-native predators such as cats and dogs are the main threats.

The IUCN says the unmanaged wild population is expected to become extinct within the next decade because these threats remain.

SEE ALSO
SOS call for ancient blue iguana
23 May 05 |  Science/Nature

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