/ 19 September 2008

Hello, hello: New iguana found on Fiji

A new iguana has been discovered on Fiji, adding to the mystery about how these colourful lizards ended up in the South Pacific, zoologists said.

Brachylophus bulabula — a doubling of ”bula”, the Fijian word for ”hello” — has a stripey, pistachio-green back and a greyish-green belly.

It is one of only three species of Pacific iguanas that have withstood the onslaught of humans and invasive predators.

”The distinctive Fijian iguanas are famous for their beauty and also their unusual occurrence in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, because all of their closest relatives are in the Americas,” said Australian National University Professor Scott Keogh in a press release on Thurdsay.

The reptilian discovery is reported in a British journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

”Our new understanding of the species diversity in this group is a first step in identifying conservation targets,” said Robert Fisher, a researcher at the United States Geological Survey in San Diego, California, who helped identify B bulabula.

Of the two other known Pacific species, the Fiji crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) is listed as ”critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Fisher said the other species, the Fiji banded iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus), is probably critically endangered too.

The three surviving species face continuing threats from habitat loss and degradation, as well as wild cats, mongooses and goats which have developed a taste for iguana meat.

Two other species have already been eaten or hounded into extinction after humans arrived on the scene about 3 000 years ago.

Iguanas’ closest relatives are more than 8 000km away in Latin America.

How they arrived on the shores of Fiji and other Pacific islands has long been a puzzle. One theory is that they hitched a ride across the ocean on floating debris about 13-million years ago. — Sapa-AFP