Fifteen years ago, the Anegada iguana conservation program was established to offset the mortality rate of young iguanas on the small island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Since then, Fort Worth Zoo conservation biologists have made significant strides in the conservation of this species. These accomplishments include determining the optimal size and survivability of released headstarted animals, initiating a mark-and-recapture program, creating a secondary means of population monitoring and maintaining support of the headstart program.
Despite a recent extensive drought, the number of Anegada iguana hatchings has been encouraging. A camera trapping study produced important data for monitoring this species and the island’s residents participated in Iguana Fest, a day-long celebration of the Anegada iguana.
Fort Worth Zoo Conservation Biologist Kelly Bradley hosted two groups of college students from all over the United States as part of the Zoo’s “Conservation Expeditions” program. Students worked in the field with Bradley studying and measuring iguanas, working at the headstart facility and collaborating on a camera trapping study. The 16 motion-censored camera traps were set up around the island to collect health, composition, density, distribution and behavioral information of the wild iguana population, released headstarted animals, feral cats and livestock. The cameras are continuously capturing images, which have produced long-term survival and movement/dispersal data about the Anegada iguanas that have been released from the headstart facility.
A festival was held outside the Anegada Iguana Headstart Facility to celebrate the island’s native species. About 100 people (one-third of the island’s population) participated in Iguana Fest, which included an art contest, a fun run/walk, breakfast, games and a cookout.
“The festival was created to generate a greater sense of pride and ownership for the recovery of the Anegada iguana,” Bradley said. “Despite Tropical Storm Raphael blowing through the British Virgin Islands that day, I was very pleased with the event – you could feel the camaraderie and excitement.” Based on the success of the inaugural event, Bradley plans to make Iguana Fest an annual celebration.
Fort Worth Zoo bird staff traveled to Great Inagua National Park, Bahamas to help mark and identify a flock of Caribbean flamingo chicks (Phoenicopterus ruber). Nearly 200 flamingos were given ID bands, weighed, measured, and some birds had blood drawn for health and genetic assessment. After this process was completed, the birds were released into the lagoon to rejoin their colony.
The Bahamas is home to the second largest group of nesting Caribbean flamingos and little information was known about this group of birds due to a number of factors. This species is separated into different regions throughout its range as a result of its specialized habitat requirements, which makes it difficult to have an understanding of each sub-population and where the birds migrate. Marking the birds with individual and locally identifiable bands will allow conservationists to monitor the movement and habitats of this species, which will aid in successful population management.
In recent history, the only population of Caribbean flamingos that has been routinely banded and monitored is the group of nesting Caribbean flamingos in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The Fort Worth Zoo was one of many groups to establish the banding project in Mexico, and has since been involved in the monitoring of this species throughout the Caribbean.
Puerto Rican crested toad
Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Puerto Rican crested toad (Peltophryne lemur) is the only toad native to Puerto Rico. The Fort Worth Zoo has played an active role in the conservation of this species through a strong captive management and reintroduction program.
The Zoo’s Executive Director, Michael Fouraker, and Curator of Ectotherms, Diane Barber traveled with two teachers to Puerto Rico to look for toads and visit reintroduction sites. The teachers traveled with Zoo staff to learn about the crested toad and related field research, including using radio telemetry equipment and collecting data on toads. Zoo staff set up frogloggers (automated recording systems for monitoring animal vocalizations) to record amphibians at night in order to identify species in the area. Educators participate with Fort Worth Zoo staff members in conservation efforts around the world through the Zoo’s Museum of Living Art (MOLA) Teacher Institute. These opportunities equip teachers with new ideas to introduce conservation methods into curriculums, making math and science more interactive to students.
Turks and Caicos iguana
The critically endangered Turks and Caicos iguana (Cyclura carinata) occupies less than five percent of its historic range due to increasing urban development and the introduction of mammalian predators. Fort Worth Zoo staff initiated a conservation project for this species by investigating on-island translocation methods. Since the project began, Zoo staff has been tracking iguanas’ movement patterns with radio transmitters and analyzing vitals on each iguana during both wet and dry seasons. The results from these tracking periods will be used as a guide to develop a proactive strategy to mitigate iguana losses from development on the island. By working with the construction development team, biologists hope to optimize a translocation method for each construction event. Another goal of this project is to extend it beyond Turks and Caicos, serving as a model for endangered rock iguanas throughout the Caribbean.