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Another endangered Galapagos Islands species is on the brink

Scientific experts estimate a population of just 211 pink iguanas, a critically endangered lizard species first discovered in 1986

Handout photo released by the Galapagos National Park of a group of park ranger monitoring a Galapagos pink iguana at Wolf volcano on Isabela Island in the Galapagos archipelago, Ecuador on August 9, 2021. (AFP)

Scientific experts sent to the Galapagos Islands to count a critically endangered lizard species estimate there to be just 211 pink iguanas left, local authorities said this week.

Around 30 scientists and Galapagos park rangers took part in the expedition this month on Wolf Volcano, in the north of Isabela Island -- the largest on the archipelago.

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"In the census, 53 iguanas were located and (temporarily) captured, 94 percent of which live more than 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level," said the Galapagos National Parks (PNG) in a statement. That allowed the experts to "estimate a population of 211 pink iguanas," an AFP report explains.

The pink iguanas were first discovered in 1986 and identified as a separate species from the Galapagos land iguana in 2009. They live exclusively in a 25 square kilometer (9.5 square miles) area on the Wolf Volcano, where the PNG has set up cameras to study the iguanas' behavior and the threats they face.

Prior to the census, Ecuadoran expert Washington Tapia told AFP that there could be as many as 350 pink iguanas. So far, "no juveniles have been discovered," said Tapia, the director of the American Galapagos Conservancy NGO that took part in the expedition.

Handout photo released by the Galapagos National Park of a Galapagos pink iguana at Wolf volcano on Isabela Island in the Galapagos archipelago, Ecuador on August 9, 2021.
Handout photo released by the Galapagos National Park of a Galapagos pink iguana at Wolf volcano on Isabela Island in the Galapagos archipelago, Ecuador on August 9, 2021. (AFP)

In quotes released by PNG on Friday, Tapia said "being restricted to one single site makes the species more vulnerable." "Urgent action is required to guarantee their preservation."

Earlier this year, researchers in Ecuador confirmed that a giant tortoise found in 2019 in the Galapagos Islands was a species considered extinct a century ago. The turtle was found two years ago on Fernandina Island, one of the youngest and most pristine in the archipelago, during a joint expedition between the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Conservancy, a Reuters report explains.

Scientists from Yale University then identified it as the Chelonoidis phantasticus species, which had been considered extinct more than a century ago. "Yale University revealed the results of genetic studies and the respective DNA comparison that was made with a specimen extracted in 1906," the Galapagos Park said in a statement. In the Galapagos Islands, many varieties of tortoises live together with flamingos, boobies, albatrosses and cormorants, a family of species of aquatic birds, the Reuters report added. 

The Galapagos Islands are a protected wildlife area and home to unique species of flora and fauna. They lie 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of Ecuador. The archipelago was made famous by British geologist and naturalist Charles Darwin's observations on evolution after visiting the islands.

Also read: Turtle considered extinct 100 years ago is still in existence

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