Leonardo DiCaprio praises Jamaica’s iguana conservation efforts

American actor and leading world environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. (Photo: USAToday)

A-list American actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio has lauded local efforts to protect the Jamaican iguana and offer the endemic, endangered reptiles a permanent home on the offshore Goat Islands.

DiCaprio, in a tweet on Friday, May 22, praised the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group, which hopes to create a sanctuary on Great Goat Island for the reptiles in the coming years.

“The Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group may be able to start releasing #JamaicanIguanas to the wildlife sanctuary on the #GoatIslands within the next few years. The sanctuary can hold up to 10,000 iguanas,” DiCaprio shared with his 19 million followers.

The Jamaican Iguana Recovery effort was featured by international organisation Global Wildlife Conservation earlier in May, as GWC likened the success story to a phoenix: rising from the clutches of sure extinction.

“Its newest chapter promises to be its most hopeful yet. Scientists are working to release iguanas on Goat Islands, which were declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2017. Greater Goat Island could become a predator-free haven for Jamaican Iguanas and other endangered species within the next few years,” GWC wrote.

The Jamaican iguana is a large bluish-grey lizard with red eyes. 

Wild adult Jamaican iguana. (Photo: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation)

The reptiles are among nearly a dozen rocky iguana species found in the Caribbean, however, the Jamaican iguana can be found nowhere else in the world, which makes the task of keeping them alive and thriving that more important.

“For thousands of years, the iguanas and other reptiles were the largest land animals in Jamaica. When humans introduced non-native mammals to the island in the late 1800s, it marked the beginning of the swift decline of the Jamaican Iguana until it disappeared in the early 1950s. Scientists thought the Jamaican Iguana was extinct for 40 years until it was unexpectedly rediscovered in the Hellshire Hills on Jamaica’s mainland in 1990,” Global Wildlife Conservation continued.

It was like hitting the biodiversity jackpot and ever since, the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group has worked with fervour to save the animals.

The islands, located just off the coast of St Catherine, were seen as the ideal habit for the re-emergence of Jamaica’s iguanas, but a secretive but lucrative 2015 deal between the People’s National Party-led (PNP) government and a Chinese firm threatened it all.

Aww! Hatchling Jamaican Iguanas emerging from a nest. (Photo: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation)

“The Jamaican government made a secretive deal with a Chinese company to build a transhipment hub in Portland Bight, which includes Goat Islands—the only place with enough habitat for a healthy and thriving population of Jamaican Iguanas. The port would have razed Goat Islands, making it uninhabitable for the Jamaican Iguana and many other species,” the Texas-based GWC continued.

Massive outcry from the local community and many conservationists vested in protecting the biodiversity of Goat Islands forced the government to abandon plans to build the port in the ecologically sensitive area.

Just when all hope seemed lost, the iguana got a new chance at survival, and two years later, in 2017 Goat Islands was officially declared a wildlife sanctuary.

Read more on the Jamaican iguana feature here.