With seven expeditions over the past ten months, scientists in the Galápagos Islands have been studying the last surviving population of critically endangered pink iguanas. Made up of an estimated 200 to 300 adults, the population has been declining and aging over the last decade, leading to concern about the species going extinct.
Now, scientists have made a major discovery: They’ve revealed the first-ever documented nesting sites of the reptile and the first recorded pink iguana hatchlings.
The find represents the first time that baby or juvenile pink iguanas have been found since the species was identified in 2009. Previously, only older pink iguanas were seen in the region.
“This discovery marks a significant step forward, which allows us to identify a path going forward to save the pink iguana,” Danny Rueda, the director of the Galápagos National Park, says in a statement, per Reuters.
The global population of pink iguanas is confined to Isabela Island’s Wolf Volcano, the tallest volcano in the Galápagos. Dozens of cameras hidden throughout the volcano by conservationists helped document the pink iguanas’ nesting activities.
The cameras also helped identify the main predator killing young iguanas: non-native feral cats. The cats congregate near the nesting sites and kill the hatchlings, which are easy prey for the felines. Scientists suspect predation by cats has prevented young iguanas from living long enough to reproduce for the last decade. Rats observed near pink iguana nesting sites may also be a threat to the species, reports USA Today’s Saleen Martin.
Though national park rangers first discovered the reptile in 1986, scientists took decades to identify the pink iguana as its own species. Despite their name, baby pink iguanas are anything but pink. The young reptiles have a neon yellow-green color with characteristic dark striping. It’s not until the reptiles get older that they develop their rosy hue. The iguanas can grow up to 18.5 inches in length, reports Reuters.
“The discovery of the first-ever nest and young pink iguanas together with evidence of the critical threats to their survival has also given us the first hope for saving this enigmatic species from extinction.” Paul Salaman, president of Galápagos Conservancy, says in a statement. “Now, our work begins to save the pink iguana.”
The search for the endangered reptiles was part of Iniciativa Galápagos, a partnership between the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galápagos Conservancy to preserve and restore the Ecuadorean islands.
Since finding the nesting sites and hatchlings, Iniciativa Galápagos researchers are now focused on protecting and monitoring the nesting locations. To aid in these conservation efforts, the Galápagos Conservancy funded the establishment of a field station with a 360-degree view of Wolf Volcano to defend against poaching and animal trafficking activity. “This remote base will facilitate conservation and monitoring work on the volcano, helping guarantee the conservation and restoration of the Pink Iguana population,” Rueda says in the statement.
Alongside the pink iguanas, the Galápagos are home to various other species that only exist in the region, such as the giant Galápagos tortoise, the Galápagos penguin and the marine iguana.