Smuggled iguanas tell larger tale of animal trafficking

A Northern Island Rock Iguana has a new home at Shedd Aquarium.
A Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana has a new home at Shedd Aquarium.

The two Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas (Cyclura cychlura) that arrived recently to Shedd Aquarium are familiar faces to me.

I’ve dedicated more than 20 years of my life studying the three types (i.e. subspecies) of this species in The Bahamas. During this time, I have been fortunate to work with dedicated individuals and organizations, such as the Bahamas National Trust, to help protect this threatened animal. The result of this research led, in part, to the expansion of a national park on Andros Island that now protects critical habitat and important iguana populations. Our collective work and outreach initiatives have also raised awareness about the unique Bahamian rock iguanas and inspired a greater appreciation for Bahamian natural heritage.

But the iguanas that recently arrived at Shedd tell another story of how research can unexpectedly benefit wildlife conservation. These Exuma Rock Iguanas came our way because of illegal wildlife trafficking. In 1998, our two iguanas were among a group of iguanas confiscated from smugglers, who intended to profit from selling the animals on the black market. Genetic data, garnered from blood samples collected over the course of Shedd’s long-term iguana research on the remote islands in the Exumas, were used to identify the exact location where the animals were taken. Other evidence tying the smugglers to that location was then used to help convict the defendants.

Showcasing these incredible iguanas to our guests not only allows us to share their unique conservation story, but also provides a platform to have a broader conversation about wildlife trafficking. To be sure, the motive to smuggle iguanas (or any wildlife) is hardly unique. Last year, 13 Central Bahamian Rock Iguanas (another species of rock iguanas from The Bahamas) were confiscated in London’s —> Read More