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There Are Just 211 Galápagos Pink Iguanas Left, Latest Estimates Show

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Katy Evans

Managing Editor

clockSep 1 2021, 14:49 UTC

Despite basically being a bright pink dragon, the Galapagos pink iguana went undiscovered for hundreds of years. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

There are just 211 Galápagos pink iguanas left in the world, according to a new survey. Preliminary results from the first-ever comprehensive census of the pink land iguana show there are over 100 fewer of the now critically endangered lizards than previously thought. 

Scientists and park rangers from Galápagos Conservancy and the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) recently teamed up to count the rosy-hued lizards, which are only found in a 25 square kilometer (9.5 square miles) area on the northern slopes of Wolf volcano on Isabela Island, the largest of the Galápagos. The findings have led the species to be declared critically endangered.

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galapagos pink iguana
Evidence suggests the pink iguanas diverged from other Galapagos land iguanas 5.7 million years ago, making them one of the oldest events of divergence recorded in Galapagos. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

The pink iguanas (Conolophus marthae) were first discovered in 1986 and declared a separate species to the Galápagos Islands’ land iguanas in 2009. Before the census, experts had put the population at around 300-350. "In the census, 53 iguanas were located and [temporarily] captured, 94 percent of which live more than 1,500 meters [4,900 feet] above sea level," said the Galápagos National Parks (PNG) in a statement. This allowed them to estimate the current population numbers as 211.

galapagos pink iguana
Anyone getting Jurassic Park vibes will be pleased to know they are mainly herbivores, feeding on prickly pear leaves and fruit. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

Worryingly, no juveniles were found during the 10-day expedition. The last juveniles were seen in 2014, according to the Galápagos Conservancy. This could indicate that introduced pests like rodents and feral cats are preying on them. 

galapagos pink iguana
The pink coloring is due to the lack of pigment in their skin, allowing you to see the blood underneath. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

The Galápagos National Park has now created a new conservation plan to ensure the survival of the pink iguanas, including a permanent monitoring base on the summit of the Wolf volcano and a systematic control program for introduced species, one that will assess the risk to non-targeted animals too.

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"Being restricted to a single site makes the species more vulnerable, considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered and therefore so much urgent action is required to guarantee its conservation," said Washington Tapia, Conservation Director of the Galápagos Conservancy.

galapagos pink iguabas
Iguanas were measured, monitored, and photographed. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

Camera traps have also now been stationed near the summit which are triggered by movements. This will help scientists understand more about these rare creatures' behavior and their possible threats. This camera trap footage was captured just days after the expedition left and includes footage possibly triggered by a rodent, which may predate on the iguanas' eggs and young.   

The Galápagos Islands famously host a wealth of unusual creatures endemic to its shores. The archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of 19 islands located around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, which means many creatures have evolved separately far away from other species.

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In fact, you're basically tripping over rare species as it has more endemic species than not; most famously it's giant tortoises and Darwin's finches. The Galápagos pink iguana may not be as well known as those, but, hopefully, new conservation efforts will allow them to be another success story for the islands' conservation.

galapagos pink iguana
Here's looking at you, kid. Image credit: © Joshua Vela/Galápagos Conservancy

 


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