Belfast Zoo is celebrating another conservation success this summer, as three Utila iguanas hatched on 6 July 2017 and can now be seen in the reptile and amphibian house!
The Utila iguana is named after its tropical island home of Utila, which is located in the Caribbean. Utila iguanas are unique because they are the only type of spiny-tailed iguana to live in mangrove swamps. The female cannot lay her eggs in the swamp and therefore, she moves to nearby beaches, lays the eggs and buries them in the sand for the sun to incubate them.
Belfast Zoo Senior Keeper, Allan Galway, explains “Reptiles have walked the earth for more than 340 million years, even outliving the dinosaurs, and yet today they are facing ever-increasing threats which are driving them further towards the edge of extinction. The Utila iguana, in particular, is Critically Endangered and was once considered to be one of the rarest iguanas in existence. The future of this iguana is currently hanging in the balance as they are under threat from habitat destruction, an increase in tourism and the impact of invasive plants and animals that have been introduced to the island. It is estimated that there could be fewer than 5000 left in the wild with populations continuing to decrease. It is therefore vital that zoos play an active role, by working together collaboratively through the breeding programme, to ensure the long-term survival of the Utila iguana should this worrying trend continue in the wild.”
Allan continues, “In April, we opened Belfast Zoo’s newly renovated and extended reptile and amphibian house which became home to 15 new species. This showed our continued commitment to both the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria regional collection plans for reptiles and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria world conservation strategy. As part of the development of this house, we installed a ‘nursery’, to be utilised as the animals breed and the population of the house grows. To kick start our nursery, we received iguana eggs from Cotswold Wildlife Park. The eggs were then kept in a temperature-controlled incubator for three months until they hatched and were then kept in an off-show area to monitor their progress. The babies only measure about 15 centimetres at the moment but, when fully grown, these reptiles will measure up to 60 centimetres.”
Belfast Zoo’s new reptile and amphibian house is home to 15 new species including the Critically Endangered golden mantella, mossy frogs, lemur leaf frogs, venomous Mexican beaded lizards, Jamican boas and yellow-headed day geckos.
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