Galápagos Pink Iguana

The Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and the Galápagos National Park reported on Thursday that the world’s only colony of pink iguanas has escaped harm from the eruption of Wolf Volcano on Isabela island.  The volcano erupted Monday with lava coursing down the volcano’s southeastern slope, raising fears that the iguana colony might be in peril.  But park officials said that the lava missed the iguanas by a distance of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles).

Galapagos Conservancy’s Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, Wacho Tapia, was asked by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Governing Council of Galapagos to participate in their overflight of Wolf Volcano during its eruption on May 26, 2015.  On the Conservancy’s website, Tapia reported on his observations:

Xavier Garcia / Galápagos National Park

Wolf Volcano erupts

“Although impossible to see the source of the lava flow or if there was lava flowing in another direction or into the crater,” Tapia wrote, “we could be certain that so far the eruption was not affecting the areas inhabited by pink iguanas or giant tortoises.”

The tortoises on Isabela are considered extremely important to conservation groups and scientists because DNA from those tortoises might be useful in breeding and repopulating islands where the creatures have gone extinct.

The pink iguanas may have survived this event but the Galápagos Conservation Trust pointed out in a web posting that their very existence is still threatened, with only 200 mature individuals in the entire population.  Surveys of the iguanas have not found any juveniles–not a good harbinger for the future of the species.

Another endangered species on Isabela Island is the Mangrove finch, with only about 80 birds in a small area about 20-30 km (12.4-18.6 miles) south of the volcano.  The big threat to the birds isn’t the flow of lava but rather a parasitic fly that preys on their young.

Ian Dunn, CEO of the  Trust wrote: “It is incumbent upon us to do what we can to conserve Galapagos species, to help populations reach their natural levels of resilience as, in a place as harsh and unforgiving as Galapagos, anything less may simply not be enough.”

Wacho Tapia

Wacho Tapia’s map of the lava flow. Tortoise area outlined in white, iguana area outlined in pink.

And Wacho Tapia warned:  “Next time it could be different. It will be important to keep an eye on Wolf Volcano and other volcanoes in Galapagos. We need to determine when we should just admire these spectacular natural events and when we must intervene to save our beloved tortoises, iguanas, and other species — many of which are under a long-term recovery process, thanks to the conservation programs of the Galapagos National Park and its many collaborators.”

While Mangrove finches, pink iguanas and tortoises remain safe so far, the park reports that some lizards and snakes may have been harmed by the lava flow.  No humans on Isabela Island were endangered.

The 1,707 meter (5600 foot) volcano is the highest peak in the Galápagos archipelago.  It last erupted in 1982.