Reptile and Amphibian Conservation in the Caribbean


Blue Iguana

I have been lucky enough to travel to the Caribbean Islands
on many occasions. Most people spend their time in the Caribbean lying on
beautiful beaches and swimming in the warm waters, but I always find myself
going for long hikes. I spend time looking for the many species of reptiles and
amphibians that call the islands home. The Caribbean has an incredible
diversity of reptiles and amphibians including many endemics that only occur on
a single island. Despite this great diversity, the reptile and amphibian
populations are more threatened than any place in the world with over 200
species listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered by the International
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist. In addition, 6 species of
lizards and snakes have gone extinct. Most of these declines and extinctions
are due to a combination of introduced predators and habitat loss. On one of my
more recent trips, I decided it was important to do something to save these important
parts of the Caribbean that few people think about or see as they spend their
vacation on the beaches. At the time I was serving as chairman of Southeast
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SE PARC) and I decided that
SE PARC should incorporate the Caribbean into the region to facilitate
partnerships and promote conservation of the endangered herpetofauna on the

I contacted Jen Stabile who is a Senior Keeper/Amphibian
Conservation Coordinator at the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo and explained my idea.
Jen works on declining amphibian populations in the Caribbean and was eager to
help. We decided that holding a Caribbean symposium at the 2012 SE PARC meeting would
be good way to celebrate the addition of the Caribbean to the southeast region.
Jen played a critical role in planning and coordinating the symposium. The
meeting was held in mid February and was kicked off with a keynote address from
Fred Burton on his efforts to save the Blue Iguana in the Cayman Islands. He
gave an inspiring talk, describing how initial surveys showed that there were
very few iguanas left in the wild and how their efforts to captive breed and
reintroduce iguanas into a preserve system they protected has recovered their
numbers and saved the species for extinction.

  Enlarge Photo

Conference attendees of the recent SE PARC annual meeting

The keynote was followed by four great talks on the ecology
and conservation of amphibians and reptiles. First, Dr. Rafael Joglar gave an
overview of reptile and amphibian diversity in the region with a special focus
on Puerto Rico where he does the majority of his work. Rafael did an excellent
job setting the stage for the rest of the speakers. Second, Dr. Patricia
Burrowes talk about amphibians in Puerto Rico and how their populations have
been influenced by the Chytrid fungus. It appears that some amphibian species
have declined significantly while other have persisted. Third, Dr. Kent Vliet
talked about the biology of the Cuban Crocodile including some amazing video
footage that showed how agile they are on land and how high they can jump. He
also showed some interesting evidence that historically the Cuban Crocodile
most likely occurred much more widely in the Caribbean. Finally, Dr. Carlos
Martinez Rivera talked about amphibian populations in Haiti and outlined a plan
to save declining species. Carlos also highlighted how difficult it is for the
people of the region, especially given the recent earthquake and the extreme
poverty. Overall, the symposium was well received and stimulated a great deal
of interest from the meeting participants.

Later in the meeting, the Caribbean Symposium speakers, Jen,
Kurt Buhlmann, and I held a brainstorming session to discuss approaches to
maintaining the momentum the symposium had generated. We discussed the many
challenges associated with developing partnerships in the Caribbean and started
to develop strategies for working around those challenges to develop
partnerships across islands for reptile and amphibian conservation. We are
developing a database of all the individuals and organizations that work on
amphibian and reptile conservation in the Caribbean. We are also discussing
ways to get a larger number of people and institutions from the Caribbean to
participate in the next SE PARC meeting and determining if there is someone from
the region that might be interested in serving on the SE PARC Steering
Committee. The inclusion of the Caribbean began a new chapter for PARC. A new
chapter that will pave the way for developing partnerships for amphibian and
reptile conservation in the Caribbean.