Posted by : sanne

The Jamaica Iguana and its habitat is seriously threatened in its existence. Hard work is being done to change the tide. Means of communication will be a valuable asset in providing a better protection and improve the chances of survival for the tropical dry forests and its unique herbivore inhabitant: the Jamaica Iguana (Cyclura collei).

Jamaica Iguana - Hellshire hills
In Jamaica lives the endemic Jamaica Iguana (Cyclura collei). It was assumed that this Iguana was extinct in the wild, but it was rediscovered in 1991. This critically threatened species, from which only 50 adult animals are still found in the wild, lives only in the Hellshire hills and nowhere else. This habitat, which has shrunk to about 10 by 13 km, is a unique tropical dry forest, which belongs to one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, unfortunately.

Peter Vogel - Hellshire hills met Cyclura collei

Joe Burgess Cyclura collei

The Jamaica Iguana Conservation and Research Group of the University of the West Indies and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Species Survival Commission (SSC), Iguana Specialist Group (ISG), specifically tries to protect and recover Cyclura collei and the corresponding biodiversity of Hellshire hills. Despite the fact that this vulnerable habitat is protected by the government, there are big problems in translating this policy into an actually effective enforcement policy. The Hellshire hills, the Jamaica Iguana and many other rare organisms which only occur in this habitat, are heavily suffering from a number of factors like commercial and private real estate developments. This means the crumbling away of the tropical dry forest. Furthermore, illegal charcoal winning and logging are a serious threat. The mostly poor Jamaican inhabitants make for a part their living by charcoal winning and is burning the tropical dry forest to this end. This, by selling charcoal, to better provide for their sustenance. Also, a feline animal (Mongoose), introduced some time ago on the island, wreaks havoc among the Jamaica Iguana. This mammal hunts juvenile Iguanas and other small animals.

Wild boar and dogs also are a problem. The boars take a heavy toll on the Iguana's food and disturb their nesting places. The dogs of the illegal charcoal workers are not fed properly and have to hunt for their food. Often, these dogs stay in the tropical dry forest and form packs. Adult Iguanas are heavily hunted by these dogs. Criminality is also a big problem in Jamaica. Every day there are fatalities and killing of people by the police. Hellshire hills lies about 37 km from Kingston and often suffers under criminal influences, partly caused by the poor condition of life of the local people. Rangers try to protect the area, but lack any form of communication, which seriously hampers their efforts. The Jamaica Air Force Wing also helps to patrol the area. It is not easy work for the rangers and the military, because Jamaica is a very dangerous place. Several months ago, an air force helicopter was shot at during their patrol and subsequently crashed.


Jamaica air force wing - Helikopter crash

What are the consequences if the Jamaica Iguana should become extinct? We cannot fully predict this, but the consequences will be grave. We know this, because the ecological role of this Iguana has been fairly studied. The tropical dry forest and its limestone plateaus is a fragile ecosystem in which every organism is closely linked to one another in order to maintain the habitat. The main function of the Jamaica Iguana is his role as a seed disperser. By eating fruits, the seeds end up in their stomachs and are subsequently dropped somewhere else with their feces. The feces acts as a fertilier, which gives the seeds the best chance to sprout and grow. These Iguanas are therefore an important link in the diversity of the vegetation of Hellshire hills. If the Iguana should go extinct, it would have serious consequences for the biodiversity of Hellshire hills and its unique inhabitants like the skink Mabuya mabouya, the rodent Geocapromys brownii and many endemic forest birds among which the probably extinct Siphonorhis americanus.

Joe Burgess - Mabuya mabouya


Geocapromys brownii


- Siphonorhis americanus

The communication project
The Dutch Iguana Foundation (Stichting Doelgroep Groene Leguanen) has instigated a project to better protect the habitat. In collaboration with the ECWF (Emergency Communications Without Frontiers), we have at our disposal means of communication from the police and the military, like walkie-talkies, radiotelephones and signal boosters. With the available material, we can provide the whole area with a wireless radio communication network. Through this, the biologists, rangers and military can do their protective work more efficient and more safe. But, before we achieve this, a lot of obstacles have to be taken. For instance: power sources, transport, permits etc. It will not surprise you, that money will be an important instrument in acquiring a working system.

The recovery of the population of the Jamaica Iguana and its habitat the Hellshire hills will be extremely difficult and expensive. The rough and almost impassable land will bring considerable costs with it to achieve our aim. So your support in the form of a financial contribution will be very welcome and of essential importance to better protect the habitat of the Jamaica Iguana by means of communication systems. You can send your contribution to: bank account 52874, IBAN: NL55 PSTB 0000 052874, BIC: PSTBNL21, by name of Dutch Iguana Foundation, mentioning: Jamaica Iguana. The foundation will guarantee that every donation, however small, will be fully used for this project. For further information you may contact us by email Evert.henningheim@sdgl.org

Joe Burgess - Cyclura collei

By Evert Henningheim