National Iguana Awareness Day

National Iguana Awareness Day - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Written By: Spencer Shultz

The Cuban iguana, like many lizards, are strong climbers with sharp claws and powerful legs.  This medium to large species, can grow up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 7 kg (15lbs). Cuban iguanas have a dewlap which is an extra flap of skin below the chin on the neck that helps with temperature control and to attract the opposite sex.

Known by various names, including Cuban rock iguana and clouded rock iguana, these iguanas are native to Cuba and the Cayman Islands. They have also been introduced and found in Puerto Rico. While not endangered, Cuban iguanas suffer from habitat loss and predation by cats, dogs and pigs.

Our resident Cuban iguana arrived after he unintentionally boarded a ship entering the United States from Cuba. The animal exited the ship upon arrival in Florida and was found by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and taken to a local partner facility.  Shortly after, the USFWS asked us to provide him with a permanent home.

To ensure a smooth transition to his new habitat, our team of animal care professionals worked with him using positive reinforcement training. Through this technique, our team rewarded him with special fruit treats when he remained calm. Over the past several months, he has gotten much more comfortable and will even let his keepers use tactile reinforcement, mainly a back scratcher, to bond with him. The bonding helps animal care staff move him comfortably from area to area when the habitat needs to be cleaned.  In the future, the development of this bond between the Cuban iguana and animal care staff will aid in conducting medical health check-ups with minimal stress or intervention. You can visit our Cuban iguana in his brand new habitat, found in Manatee Mangrove.