It’s the real Iguanagate. A world away from the Central Coast nightclub at the centre of the Labor Party scandal, 6000 critically endangered Fijian crested iguanas, the last of their species, are surviving on an island smaller than Taronga Zoo in the Pacific.
Experts from Sydney’s zoo have stepped in to lend a hand, via a new grants program that allows the docile reptiles to be studied and, hopefully, conserved.
“You really don’t find many of them left so the position these iguanas are in is critical,” said Peter Harlow, a former Sydney University researcher who has now been on the zoo staff for seven years.
“They are really at risk from habitat loss but it would only take one event – a bushfire, a loose mongoose – for the population to be in real trouble in a closed environment.”
The vast majority of the crested iguanas subsist quietly on fruit and leaves on Yaduataba Island in Fiji – a land mass of only 70 hectares, or smaller than Taronga Zoo itself.
There are scattered populations amounting to a few hundred reptiles on surrounding islands, which are slightly different in colouring and behaviour to the main population on Yaduataba, and, with their habitat threatened by humans and wild goats, these remnants are the priority.
The zoo hopes to establish a captive breeding program by negotiating with the Fijian Government, and ultimately top up the wild population.
Four iguanas now reside at the zoo, including one that Dr Harlow handled today.
The zoo is not unmindful of the iguanas’ potential for publicity in the light of recent events surrounding Labor MP Belinda Neal.
The male lizard is without a name – it makes do with a serial number – but its keeper had a suggestion yesterday.
“You might as well call it Belinda,” Dr Harlow said.