Wolf Volcano, situated on Isabela Island in the Galapagos archipelago, is home to the world’s only population of the rare Pink Iguana – Conolophus marthae. With around a mere 300 individuals estimated to be living around the summit and higher altitude slopes of the still-active volcano (erupting for the first time in 33 years in 2015), measures are in place to monitor the iguanas with a view to establishing a captive breeding programme to ensure the their future survival.
For anyone travelling to the region on a Galapagos holiday, learning a little about this unusual and critically endangered species may help to deepen an understanding of the islands’ unique balance of biodiversity.
The Pink Iguana of Wolf Volcano
Before the iguanas with the unusual rosy-pink colouring were noticed by park rangers on Isabela Island in 1986, they had never before been seen â€“ or at least sightings had never been recorded. An in-depth study by scientists began in 2000, and the animals were eventually recognised as a separate species in 2009.
For those who are lucky enough to catch sight of these rare creatures, there’s no mistaking the delicate rosy hue of the Pink Iguana. Its dusky colour also stands in striking contrast to its otherwise very “homely” physical appearance. In addition, the skin features wide, dark stripes that are distributed towards the back of its squat body and that spread down to its elongated tail.
Apart from the colouration, other differences between the Pink and the regular Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) include subtle discrepancies in the spiny crest that runs from the latterâ€™s head along its back, as well as some variations in the head nodding behaviour the animal engages in when protecting its territory.
Because of iguanasâ€™ incredibly small range (around 25 square kilometres), its diminutive numbers mean it is now listed as “critically endangered”. Its only natural predator at those altitudes (between 600 and 1700 metres) is the Galapagos hawk, but several introduced species that inhabit the island also pose a threat, such as rats (who take the eggs) and feral cats.
With the population’s precarious numbers, efforts to conserve the iguanas have been ramped up. A programme established by the GNPD (Galapagos National Park Directorate) has sent a group of scientists to the summit of Wolf Volcano to install tracking devices in order to monitor behaviour, movement, mating data, interactions and numbers of the animal. Once these vital statistics are collected, the GNPD hopes to be able to recreate the speciesâ€™ nesting requirements and enact a captive breeding programme, which is a method that has been successfully employed for other wildlife of the archipelago, including the Land Iguana.
Encounter the Unique Landscape and Wildlife on a Galapagos Holiday
For those who travel to the region on a Galapagos holiday, there’s not a huge possibility of catching sight of the rare Pink Iguana, but there are plenty of the more common yellow-coloured species to be seen. However, learning more about the endangered endemic species as well as the commonly seen ones can only serve to enhance an understanding of the delicate ecosystem of the archipelago.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos holiday itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
This article is copyright free.