In 1835, Charles Darwin was the last person to officially see a land iguana on Santiago Island in the Galapagos. After that encounter, predators like the feral pig wiped the lizard population out of that location. Now — nearly two centuries later —  an initiative by the Galapagos National Park authority has reintroduced more than 1,400 land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) back to Santiago Island.

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Authorities said in a recent statement that on January 3 and 4, the land iguanas were taken from neighboring North Seymour Island and introduced to the coastal regions Puerto Nuevo and Bucanero, which have similar ecosystems to the iguanas’ former home.

The Galapagos Conservation Trust says that the archipelago’s land iguana population suffered when species like cats, rats, dogs and pigs were introduced. Those species prey on baby iguanas and eggs, plus they compete for food. Some cats even target adult iguanas up to four years old.

But, the last feral pig on Santiago Island was eradicated in 2000 as part of the Galapagos Conservancy’s Project Isabela, and the island became officially pig-free in 2004.

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The Santiago Island iguana reintroduction initiative was in due to depleting vegetation on North Seymour Island, which was threatening also a main threat to the food source of more than 5,000 iguanas. However, some lizards did remain to avoid compromising the existing vegetation.

“The land iguana is a herbivore that helps ecosystems by dispersing seeds and maintaining open areas free from vegetation,” says Galapagos ecosystems director Danny Rueda.

Authorities will continue to monitor the iguanas that have been reintroduced to the Galapagos island in order to determine if the iguanas are properly adapting and creating nests, and also to see if they are finding necessary food. They will also keep a close eye on newer species found on the island, such as rodents and ants, to make sure they are not disturbing the iguanas’ nests.

Galapagos National Park Director Jorge Carrión said on Twitter that reintroducing the iguanas to Santiago Island was “great news for #Galapagos, for #Ecuador, and the world.”


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