Lonely Planet Writer

Iguanas are reintroduced to Galápagos island after 200 years

A group of 1436 land iguanas have been reintroduced to Santiago Island (Isla Santiago) – the fourth largest of the Galápagos islands – after an absence of more than 200 years.

Land iguanas have been reintroduced to Santiago island. Image by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The presence of land iguanas on Santiago Island was reported for the last time in 1835, during a visit British naturalist Charles Darwin made to the northeast of the island. Two centuries after the last sighting, the land iguanas have returned thanks to the efforts of a joint restoration project between Galápagos National Park and Island Conservation. The species, which is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List, was transferred from North Seymour Island, park authorities said in a statement.

Park director, Jorge Carrion, said the iguanas became extinct due to non-native competitors and predators such as the feral pig, which was eradicated in 2001. The newly-introduced land iguanas will now live alongside the Santa Fé land iguana and the pink Galápagos land iguana, which also populate the islands.

The restoration program is also aimed at protecting the population of iguanas on North Seymour, said to number about 5000, where food is limited. In addition, the environmental authority will establish a programme of permanent management of introduced species, such as ants and rodents, to protect future nesting areas of land iguanas in Santiago.

Starting in February, rangers will determine how well the iguanas are settling into their new home by assessing their nests and the plants they appear to favour, among other things. They’ll also keep a close eye on newer species like rodents and ants to prevent them disturbing the iguanas’ nests. Danny Rueda, the park authority’s ecosystems director, praised the project, highlighting the benefit which the iguanas bring to the natural and fragile biodiversity of the island; “the land iguana is a herbivore that helps ecosystems by dispersing seeds and maintaining open spaces devoid of vegetation.”

Land iguanas were last seen on Santiago Island in 1835. Image by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Galápagos National Park was established in 1959 to protect the islands’ fragile ecosystem. It’s Ecuador’s oldest national park and covers a massive 3087 square miles, which translates to 97% of the Galápagos islands.