On a visit to the hilly area to the east of the Maribios chain of volcanoes, north of the capital and north of Lake Managua, we were able to make a tour of the Lost Canyon nature reserve. The owner, Richard Leonardi, had just taken delivery of an example of a rare breed of reptile, a young Nicaraguan Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura quinquecariniata). Found in only a few places in Nicaragua and the part of Costa Rica just south of Nicaragua’s border, this iguana has been hunted almost to extinction for food and for the pet trade. While it seems highly unlikely that the estimate is reliable, there are currently thought to be less than 2,500 adults left in the wild. Not surprisingly, they are ranked as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Lost Canyon actively conserves this rare iguana, and I was able to watch the healthy young reptile disappear rapidly up the deeply grooved trunk of a ‘Brasil’ tree, where it can find plenty of cracks in which to hide. The 40-hectare reserve is mainly semi-mature forest that is re-establishing itself (aided by some new tree planting) over stony hillsides that make their volcanic origins obvious. It’s an ideal home for both this rare iguana and the more common species – and safe from hunting.
Paradoxically, travelling back to Masaya we passed a place on the main Pan-American Highway where the local wildlife trade prospers. Parrots, parakeets, iguanas (the common varieties) and armadillos are offered illegally for sale. A dilemma arises: the parrots especially have to be shunned because the trade in cage birds is endangering wild populations; but on the other hand both the iguanas and the nine-banded armadillos are still very common, and are caught and sold for food. We decide to rescue two armadillos; a male and female, to replace ones we know have been hunted and killed on our own land.
Back at the farm we have to carefully free the two animals from the tight cords holding their feet together to prevent escape. The female’s feet are badly cut and swollen, but we hope a dose of veterinary spray will help her recover. At dusk, a little procession led by me goes halfway down the slope into the valley behind the farm, to a spot not recently used by armadillos (and possibly therefore safe from hunters), where a sizeable hole has been burrowed by other animals. Ignoring the wasp nest above the hole, the armadillos quickly scurry into it. We’ll now check for the telltale signs that these nocturnal animals, that we may never see again, are nevertheless active and thriving.
Footnote: armadillos and the rare spiny-tailed iguana have one thing in common: they can be picked up without problems as they don’t bite.