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  • Writer's pictureFranklin Vega

Pink iguanas are born in Galapagos under the threat of international trafficking

These reptiles only inhabit 25 square kilometers on the Wolf Volcano, north of Isabela Island, they are classified as critically endangered and are part of the supply of wild animal traffickers. There is evidence of an unauthorized incursion into the iguana area that is in the preliminary investigation phase at Ecuador's Prosecutor's Office.

Juvenile pink iguana. Its coloration will change to pink as it completes its development. Photo: Galapagos National Park.

After a year of searching for them traveling through a specific part of Isabela Island, park rangers from the Galapagos National Park managed to locate an undisclosed number of newborn and juvenile pink iguanas (Conolophus marthae).

Although the results of the genetic analyzes confirming that the baby iguanas belong to that species are not yet available, since they share their habitat with a species of yellow iguana (Conolophus subcristatus), the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE) already announced the finding.

The presence of newborn and juvenile pink iguanas is positive news, without a doubt. It is the first time that animals in different stages of development and not just adults have been recorded, as was the case since the first indications of the existence of pink iguanas dating back to 1964. In 2009, the "discovery" was formalized when herpetologists Gabriele Gentile from the University of Rome Tor Vergata (Italy) and Howard Snell from the University of New Mexico described the new species for science, after a process of research and genetic analysis.

A park ranger handles an adult pink iguana. Photo: Galapagos National Park

Gabriele Gentile, herpetologist, and pioneer in the study of pink iguanas, highlighted, in addition to the presence of juvenile specimens, that the discovery is part of a systematic research process, in which park rangers have been involved to the point that they were managed to locate the juveniles of the iguana. "We have been studying pink iguanas since 2005 and we have learned a lot about the ecology of iguanas, but there is still a lot to learn. This is a reason to celebrate their constant work," says Gentile.

"Pink iguanas have the world's attention. When the Wolf volcano erupted, I received calls from news networks asking if the population of pink iguanas would be affected," Gabriele Gentile, scientist, and professor at Tor Vergata University in Rome

Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park (PNG) in a press release noted that: "it is a significant advance that allows us to identify a path to save the pink iguana. Knowing all the aspects that make their existence vulnerable will allow us to carry out timely actions, mainly against invasive species, and thus avoid interrupting the natural cycles of these fragile ecosystems," said Rueda.

Pink iguanas are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), among the reasons for this global alert is that their adult population numbers between 200 and 300 specimens, but currently They should add baby and juvenile iguanas.

The other weakness of the pink iguanas is that they only inhabit an area of 25 square kilometers on the Wolf volcano, north of Isabela Island. To get to the Wolf volcano, you have to walk two days from the coast of the island, along a steep, dangerous, and exhausting path. In addition, to enter the iguana area, a specific permit from the Galapagos National Park is required, as it is one of the most restricted and protected areas on the islands.

Pink iguanas are only found on Wolf Volcano, north of Isabela Island, a pink polygon that can be seen in all three images. Photos: Google Earth screenshot.

In this sense, to facilitate these research and protection incursions, the PNG reported in the same statement that “a permanent research and monitoring station for the volcano's biodiversity was installed. This infrastructure was possible thanks to the financing of the Galapagos Conservancy and the support of Fundación Jocotoco, with whom monitoring and control activities of introduced species are also carried out, especially in areas of high ecological value”.

Until now, park rangers and technicians from the NGO members of the PNG have carried out work to control cats and rats, trapping them with traps or cages. A MAATE source indicated that baits (poison) will be used to eradicate cats once they are finished developing this one for the Floreana Island Ecological Restoration Project.

Thanks to the information of the new individuals of pink iguanas collected in the Wolf volcano, the MAATE source rules out, at least for the moment, the possibility of proposing an ex situ reproduction program, in the facilities of the National Park on the island. Santa Cruz.

House on the Wolf volcano near the area where the pink iguanas live, which is used as a base for park rangers and researchers. Photo: Galapagos National Parks

There is evidence of unauthorized incursions into the pink iguana area

Adult pink iguana. Photo: Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

The Galapagos Islands are characterized by contradictions and in the case of pink iguanas, it is no exception. While the PNG and NGOs make physical and economic efforts to conserve iguanas and prevent their extinction, attempts to traffic them increase.

A prior investigation process is underway in the Ecuadorian Prosecutor's Office before the discovery of evidence of an unauthorized incursion into the area where the pink iguanas live. The details about this eventual crime to which Bitácora Ambiental had access are omitted, in order not to interfere in the investigation.

However, it is presumed that the objective of reaching such a remote and rugged place is to capture one or a few specimens of iguanas and sell them on the black market or with permits from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Pink iguanas worth $500,000 are being advertised on social media.

The premise of a possible "legal" trade is based on the fact that barely a year after the "discovery" of the pink iguanas, in 2010, two live specimens were exported from Mali (Africa) to Switzerland and were reported as bred in captivity When details are not known about the iguana farm in Mali if it exists and the conditions for the arrival of the pink iguanas in Switzerland A process that is carried out with CITES documents and that serves to legalize the iguanas that are stolen in Galapagos, as detailed in the previous report by Bitácora Ambiental.

The details of this "legal" trade can be seen in the screenshot from the CITES database:

Screenshot of the CITES Trade Database.

The CITES Trade Database records all animals and their parts that appear on the CITES lists or appendices. Galapagos iguanas are on Appendix 2 which allows their trade. However, since October 3, a court ruling has been in force that directs MAATE to begin the studies and procedures necessary for the Galapagos iguanas to go to Appendix 1, which prohibits their world trade because species are included in endangered just like the pink iguanas.


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