Habitat destruction and introduced animals have left the Fijian Crested Iguana critically endangered. This spectacular, vivid green lizard once inhabited at least 14 islands in western Fiji, but it is now only thriving and protected on a single island – Yadua Taba. On all other islands it population continues to decline.
Forest burning, the introduction of goats and invasive plants have driven the decline in populations of the Fijian Crested Iguana. Forests are burnt to provide grasslands for farming goats, which then feed on seedlings emerging from the earth, preventing forests from regrowing. It is these plant species that the Fijian Crested Iguana depends on for food and habitat.
Yadua Taba is the only island free of goats, and while iguanas are currently secure there, having only one viable and protected habitat for this species creates serious population vulnerability. A disease, fire or other catastrophic event could quite easily wipe them all out.
Taronga Zoo has been involved with the conservation of the Fijian Crested Iguana since establishing a captive breeding group in 1984, and the first field conservation program in 1999. In 1995 Carol Bach and Marina Bishop, of Taronga Zoo, created the childrens book Vuki and the Vokai. Through its story and illustrations, the book encouraged interest in and respect for the Fijian Crested Iguana. Over the years, 8000 copies of Vuki and the Vokai, funded by Taronga Zoo and the British Embassy in Fiji, have been printed and distrubuted to Fijian schools by the National Trust for Fiji. The book has been published in English and Fijian.
In 2001 Taronga funded the round-up of the last feral goats on the Yadua Taba, a project that involved all the men and boys in the village on the nearby island of Yadua.
Since then, Taronga has provided expertise and funded research aimed at identifying suitable new habitats for the Fijian Crested Iguana, so that the lizards can establish new poulations in other locations. In 2008, Dr Peter Harlow, Manager of Taronga Zoo’s Herpetofauna Department, was part of a team that identified the vegetation on the remote island of Namena as the first choice for starting a new population of Fijian Crested Iguanas.
The future of this species has been improved by the commitment and co-operation of local people, the Government of Fiji and Taronga Zoo.