This amazing lizard is critically endangered and today it is only secure on one small island. It has the ability to change colour, quite quickly depending on its mood or situation. It is normally a bright green colour with white bands running across its body. For an iguana, it is fairly small, and grows to a length of around 75cm from nose to tail tip.
Distribution & Habitat
This lizard is only found on the dry islands of western Fiji, however its population has declined dramatically in recent times, and today it is found on only six islands. The Yadua Taba Sanctuary Island holds the greatest number of the Fijian Crested Iguana with an estimated 10000 animals.
The Fijian Crested Iguana prefers dry and coastal forest but can also be found in rocky cliff habitat. In these habitats they are found in trees perching on branches especially in flowering trees. Their strong legs and sharp claws make them excellent climbers.
This iguana breeds in the middle of the wet season – usually in February to April. Like all iguanas they are egg layers. The large white eggs are 'leathery' or parchment like. The Fijian Crested Iguana has the longest incubation period of any iguana, taking around eight or nine months to hatch. A small number of large eggs are laid, usually three to five in total, and these are deposited in a carefully prepared nesting burrow by the female. Once laid and buried, the female takes no more responsibility for the eggs and leaves them to develop and hatch at the beginning of the next wet season.
The Fijian Crested Iguana is entirely herbivorous, eating only plants such as leaves, fruits, flowers and shoots. One of its favourite plants is the Pacific hibiscus, and iguanas will eat both the new leaves and the large flowers.
The Fijian Crested Iguana is active only during the day. It lives in trees and will seek sun on cool days. When under threat they will try and bluff their predator or other iguanas. They will expand and flare their necks, bob their heads and open their mouth. As a last resort they will lunge at the threat. To indicate danger to their enemy they will change colour, usually going from bright green to a dark green or even black. The darker colour makes the white bands stand out even more, hopefully making them look more intimidating to an enemy.
The main threat facing the Fijian Crested Iguana is habitat loss . Their islands have been significantly affected by forest clearing and the increasing extent of grassland for goat grazing. The goats feed on tree seedlings, shrubs and many flowering plants, decreasing the extent of forest habitat for the lizard. Other introduced predators including cats and rats have reduced numbers by feeding on the lizards and especially their eggs. Land clearing for agriculture and fires have also had a significant impact on these iguanas.
The National Trust for Fiji is currently implementing the 2010 IUCN Species Recovery Plan for the Fijian Crested Iguana. Part of this plan involves translocation of Crested Iguanas to new islands, captive breeding of iguanas from selected island populations and removal of goats from islands with declining iguana populations. Genetic research has shown that every island population is genetically distinctive, so captive breeding of island populations on the verge of extinction has begun. In early 2010, five iguanas from the island of Monuriki were captured as the first founders for a breeding group held at Kula Eco Park, a wildlife park and conservation breeding centre in Fiji.
Taronga’s conservation work
Taronga has had a long association with the conservation of these iguanas, starting in 1984 with a gift of Crested Iguanas from the Fijian Government, which were the founders of a regional captive breeding insurance group. The Manager of Herpetofauna (Reptiles and Apmhibians) at Taronga, Peter Harlow, is the only non-Fijian member of the steering committee formed to implement the IUCN Species Recovery Plan, which he senior authored. He regularly visits Fiji, most recently to train staff from the National Trust for Fiji in rapid survey techniques for iguanas and introduced predators on islands.
How you can help
You can help this amazing animal by supporting the Taronga Foundation. Each year’s funds are allocated for in situ work around this lizard and the long-term goal is protect the Fijian Crested Iguana for generations in the future.