Rare Baby Iguana Keeps the Recovery Dream Alive on a Fiji Island

Thought extinct on Malolo until 2010, the discovery of a newbie Fijian crested iguana brings the animal's population there to 31.

<p>Facebook/San Diego Zoo</p>

During a recent population survey by scientists from San Diego Zoo Global on Fiji's Malolo Island, a rare and welcome discovery turned up: A baby Fijian crested iguana.

The critically endangered reptile was thought to be extinct on the island until 2010, when some of their number were found making a living in just a few acres of forest belonging to Ahura Resorts.

And now, baby makes 31 total individuals known to be living on the island.

For the next couple of months, the little tyke is getting some extra TLC and a measure of protection from one of the iguana's top predators.

"To protect him from being predated by cats we have moved him into a captive environment until he is bigger when we plan to put him back into the forest," said Kim Lovich, the zoo's reptile curator, in a statement.

Worldwide, there are only an estimated 13,000 of the lizards left, 12,000 of which are found on the tiny islet of Yadua Taba, a protected sanctuary for the animal. The remaining iguanas are spread among just more than a dozen islands in the Fiji archipelago. Their biggest problems are habitat loss and predation by feral cats, rats and mongooses.

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Luckily for the 31 iguanas living on Malolo, officials at the resort where they reside are aware of their precarious situation and are working to protect the creatures and their habitat.

"We are avid that the little bit of dry forest that we have on our lease is maintained and preserved," said Steve Anstey, Group General Manager of Ahura Resorts. "Dry forests are one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet and it is crucial that all efforts are made to protect the small areas that remain and help re-vegetate it."

The resort also holds a special breeding facility for the iguana, and the company says it is working to control feral cats and rats that might venture near them.

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