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Endangered Iguanas Captured By Illegal Smugglers On Exhibit At The Shedd (Video)

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Aug 6, 2015 9:39PM

Photo credit: ┬ęShedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

A pair of rare, endangered iguanas once captured by illegal smugglers have made their way to the Shedd Aquarium.

The Exuma Island iguana is highly at-risk of extinction, according to researchers, thanks to a combination of its small population size—there are only about 2,000 left in the wild—the pressures of island tourism and their popularity for illegal hunting, smuggling and pet trading. Two of the iguanas are now on exhibit at the Museum Campus aquarium, where they are being studied.

“Allowing guests to experience threatened species like the Exuma Island Iguana is a testament to the high-level of care Shedd provides for all animals,” George Parsons, senior director of fishes at Shedd said in a statement Thursday. “Being able to learn about the animals in our care while simultaneously educating the public about the dangers they face and the hope we can provide for their species is a great source of pride.”

The two iguanas, one male and one female, were rescued from smugglers who removed them from the Bahamas illegal and sold them for profit to an illegal Florida pet trader in the '90s. The smugglers were convicted in court with the help of the Shedd's vice president of conservation and research Dr. Chuck Knapp.

In the wild, the iguanas play a key role in regulating plant growth and maintaining their tropical ecosystem's balance. But their magnificent size (they can grow over 4 feet long) has long made them prized by exotic pet traders, according to Shedd officials. The Shedd's iguanas are over 20 years old, and though their precise age is unknown to researchers, they can live to be over 50.