The Australian Reptile Park are celebrating a historic achievement this week, with two critically endangered Fijian crested iguanas hatching – a first for the Central Coast wildlife sanctuary. Fijian crested iguanas are under threat in the wild due to introduced predators such as feral cats, rats, and mongooses. The tiny, bright-green pair hatched at the Australian Reptile Park are extremely important as they are a part of a managed breeding program to save the species from extinction.
Due to the long timeframe for incubation for the species (8–9 months) and the importance of the eggs survival, keepers made the decision to artificially incubate the eggs to ensure the ultimate chance of survival. With the eggs being laid in December of 2021, Australian Reptile Park staff had the eggs under lock and key keeping a close eye on the eggs ensuring the temperature was at optimal level and constantly checking on the eggs for their viability and health.
The hatching of the eggs means positive signs for the national breeding program and an important step for the endangered species. Presently, captive breeding is of massive importance for population numbers, with the estimate of less than 13,000 individuals. Keepers have named the tiny lizards “Vokai” and “Saumuri”, with Vokai meaning iguana in Fijian and some tribes calling the species Saumuri throughout Fiji.
The two newly hatched iguanas have passed all initial health checks in their first week of life. Both are weighing in 13g-14g, measuring between 20cm in length and eating their first meals of leafy greens – all great indicators of excellent health. At this stage the sex of each individual is unknown until they develop a little more, which Park staff say is approximately in a month’s time.
Head Reptile Keeper, Jake Meney, said, “A lot of work goes into incubating eggs, especially for critically endangered species – the pressure is on! Constantly ensuring temperatures are optimal and checking for egg viability when the eggs are so fragile can be extremely stressful!!”
Mr Meney continued, “But it is all worth it when you see their little bright green heads popping out of the eggs! The next stage is ensuring the successful raising of the hatchlings. As they are a solitary species, we will be moving one onto display in early September and the other will stay behind the scenes in a custom-built enclosure.”
Visitors will be able to see one of the baby iguanas on display from September in the Lost World of Reptiles exhibit at the Australian Reptile Park.
Once the pair grow up and their sexes are determined (in about a month’s time), they will join the managed breeding program in Australia to boost species numbers and help save the species from extinction.