Conservation / Project Heloderma
The Motagua Valley of Guatemala, with its unique semiarid climate, subtropical thorn scrub, and dry forests, has been recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as a unique eco-region under siege. It is also home to the critically endangered Guatemalan Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti). The species’ habitat is being destroyed by the expansion of agriculture, the lizards have traditionally been killed on site by local people who believe they are dangerous, and individuals are being collected illegally for the international pet trade. The remaining wild population of Beaded Lizards has plummeted to fewer than 200 individuals.
Project Heloderma was initiated in 2006 by Guatemalan NGO Zootropic, and later joined by key partners, the IRCF and Zoo Atlanta, to save the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard from extinction. Aspects of the project include ongoing field research, an education and awareness program that has been successful within the species’ natural range and hopes to expand, and the establishment of a system of protected areas. Thanks to the project, Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti is now listed under CITES Appendix I. An initial parcel of land was purchased in 2007. The protected area, known as Heloderma Natural Reserve (HNR), now covers 128 ha (317 acres) and hopes to further expand to proportions capable of supporting a viable population of Beaded Lizards. In the meantime, captive-breeding of H. h. charlesbogerti remains a top priority for preservation of the species in the short term and is one of the primary purposes of the Research and Captive Breeding Facility that began its first phase of operations early this year. As funds allow the centre to expand, the breeding and research functions will increase in scope and the facility hopes to become a hub for environmental education in the Motagua Valley and an anchor for the preservation of the many unique species of flora and fauna found in the dry forest habitat.