Critically endangered, the Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima) is in serious decline due to human activity. Endemic to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, the population of this large lizard is estimated at fewer than 20,000 individuals. Moreover, the recent introduction of the non-native green iguana (Iguana iguana) to these islands has resulted in increased competition and interbreeding with the Lesser Antillean iguana.
The Lesser Antillean iguana lives in scrub forests, woodlands, rainforests and mangroves. Primarily herbivores, they feed on leaves, flowers, fruits and shoots. They are usually grey in colour with occasional patches of green. Like other iguanas, they possess a large dewlap which males display to rivals when defending their territory.
The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists the Lesser Antillean iguana as critically endangered. Reasons for their severe drop in numbers include habitat loss, hunting and introduction of feral predators. However, their main threat comes from their closest living relative – the green iguana. The green iguana has invaded much of the Lesser Antillean iguana’s range. This not only causes issues regarding competition, but also interbreeding. Their close evolutionary relationship allows them to breed, creating a ‘hybrid’ species. This hybridization presents a dire threat towards the genetic integrity of the Lesser Antillean iguana.
An example of the green iguana’s chaotic influence can be seen after Hurricane Luis and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. Unbelievably, a raft of uprooted trees carrying around 15 green iguanas travelled 200 miles from Guadeloupe to Anguilla! Within just a few years of arriving on the island, they began breeding. Lesser Antillean iguanas are native to Anguilla. Subsequently, this unfortunate introduction of green iguanas has had detrimental effects on their population.
Although breeding of this iguana has proved notoriously challenging, a select few conservation sites have successfully bred this species. The hope is that, once a viable population has been produced, they can be returned to their home islands.