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21st July 2008 (Updated 28th January 2009)

The critically endangered Fijian Crested Iguana will be one of eight species given a helping hand through the inaugural Taronga Foundation Conservation Field Grants program announced today at the Zoo.

It is one of eight wildlife programs to receive vital support with a total $40,000 committed by The Taronga Foundation to assist animals in their natural habitats from Botswana to Vietnam and the Daintree.

As part of the program, a double pronged rescue mission will be launched for the brilliantly coloured Fijian Crested Iguana which is now surviving on a few scattered islands in Fiji. Numbers are falling due to habitat destruction and competition from introduced species such as goats and invasive plants.

Dr. Peter Harlow, international expert on Fijian Crested Iguanas and Taronga Zoo's Herpetofauna Divisional Manager, said: "The situation for Fijian Crested Iguanas is critical. They only remain on a few small islands in Fiji. Only one secure population exists, however two other islands have less than 20 to 30 iguanas on each which are genetically different but not protected."

"Due to the small numbers of individuals which exist on these islands, the species as a whole is extremely vulnerable, a large scale bush fire or continuing deforestation could wipe out the remaining population. Without intervention these genetically different animals could be lost forever."

For over a decade Dr. Harlow has worked in Fiji conducting field surveys on this unique reptile as well as developing relations with the traditional land owners. With the additional funds granted by The Foundation, Dr. Harlow will conduct talks with the owners of the islands to encourage them to remove goats from the islands and allow forest regeneration to take place to give the iguanas a chance at survival.

"Breeding within a sanctuary or a protected environment is probably the only way future generations will be able to encounter these stunning reptiles. After successfully breeding individuals at Kula Eco Park in Fiji, the long-term plan is to transfer second generation iguanas to zoos in Australasia to establish an insurance population and further safeguard against a complete collapse of the species in the wild," said Dr. Harlow.

Taronga Conservation Society Australia's Director and Chief Executive, Guy Cooper, said: "This is an exciting new process for us, directly applying funding to wildlife in need through projects selected by a panel of the Zoos' keepers, scientists, veterinarians and curators."

"These grants, each of between $2000 and $8,500, were chosen from 18 grant applications from across the world. A further $80,000 will be allocated in the next round of grant applications which closes on October 31, 2008."

Another seven programs will benefit from the Zoos' new in-situ conservation funding, including:

  • Support of Rainforest Rescue's reforestation of the Daintree;
  • Cheetah - human conflict reduction in Botswana;
  • Reintroduction of the critically endangered Hatinh Langur in central Vietnam;
  • Fauna surveys in River Redgum State Forests;
  • The re-introduction of a Chytrid-free Southern Corroboree Frog population;
  • Asian Turtle protection and community education programs in Vietnam.

The newly announced Taronga Conservation Field Grants program expands the Zoos' commitment on the ground to sustain secure wildlife populations in natural eco-systems and habitats. The Zoos conduct a huge range of conservation research, breeding and in situ projects from Antarctica to Mongolia and throughout Australia and Asia, while providing wildlife health services to thousands of native animals each year.

Since its inception in 2000, The Taronga Foundation has contributed more than half a million dollars to conservation programs around the world.

More Information: Taronga Conservation Field Grants Program 2008

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 9978 4606
Fax: +61 2 9978 4511
Email: tzpr@zoo.nsw.gov.au

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