Protecting the Yaqaga Island Iguanas

A team from NFMV was recently on Yaqaga Island, Bua, working with the local community to survey the endemic iguana population and to initiate a cat traps.

Yaqaga Island, off the north-eastern tip of the Bua coastline on Vanua Levu Island, is a small 9.7 sq. km island, which has only one village.

An aerial view of the island of Yaqaga, courtesy of Google.
An aerial view of the island of Yaqaga, courtesy of Google.

The island has typical dry zone vegetation with only a single patch of wetter forest in its centre. There are other patches of dry lowland rainforest that are disturbed by human activity to varying degree.

The small village on the south-central coast is heavily reliant on the sea for income and subsistence. This was the setting for NFMV’s two week project on the island; the main objectives of which were to initiate a cat trapping programme to be run by the villagers themselves, and to search for the endemic iguanas found earlier on the island by the National Trust of Fiji and international herpetologists.

Three staff and an NFMV volunteer stayed on Yaqaga Island for two weeks to train two assistants from Yaqaga Village, Mosese Ravukula and Osea Nayacalevu, to trap feral cats using specialised SA cat traps.

The traps were set up and baited before nightfall and then checked early in the morning each day.

These powerful traps, when triggered, kill the feral cat immediately making it a humane form of pest animal control.

Each evening, the team along with the two village guides, headed out by foot or punt to a remote forested area to survey the forest for iguanas.

Many of these forest patches are often disturbed by coconut planting for copra, or the harvesting of fruits and other forest food items, such as the common land crab or lairo (Cardiosoma sp.).

Setting up an SA cat trap near the village.
Setting up an SA cat trap near the village.

The Yaqaga iguana population is very small and may possibly be declining due to the presence of feral goats, cats and dogs on the island.

There is an urgent need to remove these invasive animals from the non-village land to allow the iguanas on the island to live without predation pressure and to allow the vegetation in which the iguanas are found to expand in area over the island.

Taking measurements to study the endemic iguanas
Taking measurements to study the endemic iguanas

The Yaqaga iguana is distinctive, according to the international herpetologists that previously surveyed the island for iguanas.

NFMV is currently seeking financial support to expand the current project to include the other invasive pests in our eradication efforts and to search for more iguanas.