If you’ve visited our Deserts Dome recently, you may have noticed a new reptile hanging out in the large exhibit. Gertrude is a female Jamaican iguana, and while our guests are meeting her now for the first time, she has actually been part of our family for many years.
We have had several Jamaican iguanas living in a private area behind the scenes as part of an overall conservation program that was established more than two decades ago to help secure a future for this critically endangered species.
Jamaican iguanas were thought to have gone extinct in 1940 until a small population was rediscovered in a remote dry forest in southern Jamaican in 1990. Local authorities and conservationists worked together to immediately establish a conservation plan to protect these few remaining animals. Part of the efforts included a “head start” program through the Hope Zoo in Kingston, Jamaica, designed to bolster the fragile population. The Indianapolis Zoo has supported the program since the early 1990s, and in 1994 we were one of three North American zoos to receive juvenile Jamaican iguanas as part of the overall conservation program for the species.
Since arriving here in 1994, Gertrude has been instrumental in the conservation and protection of her species. In 2006 Gertrude mothered a clutch of Jamaican iguanas – one of the first successful hatching of the species in human care outside of Jamaica. Working with the Association of Zoo and Aquariums to coordinate breeding efforts and ensure a genetically diverse population Gertrude’s offspring eventually moved on to other AZA-accredited zoos and had clutches of their own. And the program continues to work toward a brighter and more sustainable future for the species.
As an important ambassador for her, species we’re so excited to introduce Gertrude to all our guests. Amid the sandy soil and prickly plants in our arid desert setting, our 27-year-old female blends right in, with her beautiful greenish-grey scales and blotchy olive and brown skin. She can be shy on cloudy days, spending time in the shade, but you can look for her enjoying the warmth of sunny days by basking on warm rocks.
The Deserts Dome is also home to two other iguana species, the rhinoceros iguana and the Grand Cayman blue iguana. The Grand Cayman blue iguana is another species that has seen success through our breeding program and are known for their striking blue coloration. Rhinoceros iguanas get their name from the large horn-like scales on their snout and their dark gray coloration. You can visit Gertrude and our other scaly friends in our Desert Dome today!
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