Iguanas, last seen by Darwin, are back and breeding on a Galápagos island

Homecoming: A Galápagos land iguana stands on Santiago Island where Darwin observed them in the 1830s. Image courtesy of @Galapagos National Park

Land iguanas have been re-seeded and are already breeding on Santiago Island in the Galápagos National Park, 187 years after a healthy population was last spotted there by Charles Darwin.

Over the past three years, the Galapagos National Park released 3,143 land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) to Santiago Island, one of the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific.

So far, it looks like a huge success, with the reintroduction of the lizards already changing the dynamics of the ecosystem for the better.

“They opened paths, removed soil, scattered seeds, and that changes the dynamic; but the best results will be seen in a few years,” said Dr. Luis Ortíz-Catedral, scientific adviser to the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) responsible for the project, in a statement. statement.

Researchers study populations of reintroduced Galápagos land iguanas on Santiago Island

Researchers are studying the reintroduced Galápagos land iguana on Santiago Island. Image courtesy of @Galapagos National Park

Most encouraging of all, the team discovered individuals in July that had not been tagged or documented, indicating that the population is healthy and reproducing.

“There has been evidence of iguana breeding in Santiago, which indicates that their reintroduction process has been successful,” explained Dr. Jorge Carrión, conservation director of the Galápagos Conservancy.

The Galápagos land iguana is considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List. While the species can be found in more of the other Galápagos islands, the last time a healthy population was documented in Santiago was in the 1830s by Darwin.

The Galápagos Islands have almost become synonymous with Darwin. He spent five weeks on the islands in 1835 as part of the second voyage of HMS Beagle, a gigantic voyage that spanned from 1831 to 1836 with the aim of surveying the coasts of South America.

Seeing the richness of biodiversity, similar from one island to another, but perfectly adapted to each environment, he supercharged the ideas that led him to the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Unfortunately, hard times have fallen on the Galápagos Islands in recent years. Plagued by worries ranging from invasive species to pollution, the islands have seen a number of their animal populations struggle.

Fortunately, a number of recent conservation projects have helped turn the tide, and the island’s biodiversity is starting to rebound.

“The process of ecological restoration on Santiago Island began decades ago when efforts began to eradicate populations of feral pigs, goats and donkeys, a goal the GNPD achieved in 2006. that the challenges to restore the ecological integrity of the island entirely are still great, the return of the land iguanas is a key step, because it is a question of giving back to the ecosystem the missing piece to restore its integrity”, added Wacho Tapia, general manager of Galápagos Conservancy.