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Shedd Researchers Share Slo-Mo Videos of Endangered Iguanas

Tagging and Releasing Iguanas for Research Never Looked So Cool

May 19, 2017

An iguana rests on a beach in the Bahamas.

In late April 2017, Shedd Aquarium’s conservation research team and citizen scientists traveled to Andros Island in the Bahamas to study the endangered Andros Island rock iguana (Cyclura cychlura ssp. cychlura) as part of a long-term research study on the species. With the objective of finding iguanas, assessing their health, tagging them and releasing them to their respective habitats, the group of scientists obtained unique slow-motion footage that shows off the animals’ speed and strength.

Led by Dr. Chuck Knapp, vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium, the team of citizen scientists explored several cays on Andros Island in search of adult and juvenile iguanas for the aquarium’s mark-recapture studies. Information collected contributes to more than 20 years of data collected by Knapp and citizen scientists to monitor the health of the endangered Andros Island iguana.

On the trip, which took place from April 23 - 28, 2017, the group captured, assessed and released 56 iguanas. Some animals were new to the study while others were animals first assessed in the early 2000s.

After identifying if the iguanas were previously tagged, researchers measured their weight, took body measurements, identified their sex, drew blood and, if the animal was new, tagged them. Upon completion of each assessment, researchers drew temporary numbers on the animals to easily display which ones have already been assessed throughout the research trip. As a long-term study, the numbers also signify how long ago each animal was first tagged. For example, iguana number 25 was the 25th animal ever caught and assessed on its respective cay. Further, iguana 102 was one of the most recent iguanas that contributed to the study.

BACKGROUND:The Andros Island rock iguana is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Threats to the species include habitat degradation, non-native species, illegal hunting and smuggling for the illicit pet trade. Shedd Aquarium and Dr. Knapp have been studying Andros iguanas since 1999. Since its inception, Dr. Knapp’s research has yielded valuable information on the endangered iguanas, as well as influenced Bahamian policy to further protect the species. In 2005, Shedd along with our partners drafted a conservation action plan with local leaders in order to protect the species. In 2009, the Bahamian government expanded an existing national park on Andros Island based in part on Shedd’s research and population studies. Though promising contributions, the ultimate goal of the research will not be realized until the Bahamian rock iguanas are protected indefinitely. 

VISUALS: Citizen scientists release three adult iguanas after assessing and tagging them, all to contribute to Shedd Aquarium’s research on the endangered Andros Island rock iguana. Found on Andros Island, iguanas 25, 70 and 102 majestically sprint away toward tree cover and their established territory.