By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay
Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world’s largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi’s iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic’s Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.
“The current Minister of the Environment simply does not care about protected areas. Other Ministry technical staff had denied the permit, but he signed it off himself, yielding to pressure from the Agrarian Institute,” Yolanda Leon, a biologist and president of the local NGO Grupo Jaragua, told mongabay.com.
Grupo Jaragua, which focuses on conservation efforts in the southwestern portion of the Dominican Republic, has called on the government to immediately halt the clearing. Meanwhile the National Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment are preparing to take legal action over the destruction, arguing that the clearing of a protected area is illegal under national law, reports the Environment News Service. To date, around ten hectares have been cleared, but the government plans on clearing over a hundred hectares.
The agricultural project is reportedly a part of a relocation project for families that have been impacted by rising water levels in nearby Enriquillo Lagoon. However, Grupo Jaragua warns that the arid land around Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve is little suitable for farming.
“Many other areas have been cleared nearby and no land has been allotted to local people, nor water systems have been installed, they remain fallow.”
However even if the clearing stops, the situation has already created conflict in the region.
“The nearby locals who’ve been promised the land are threatening […] violence against the ministry, environmental groups and any iguana they find unless they receive the land,” Leon notes.
Charco Azul Biological Reserve, which was only established in 2009, is notable for housing around 600 Ricordi’s iguana, a species which is down to just a few thousand individuals and is only found in the Dominican Republic. These iguanas are known for their blood-red eyes. In addition, the reserve is home to endemic species like the least pauraque (Siphonorhis brewsteri), the Hispaniolan racer snake (Haitiophis anomalus), and a tree cactus (Dendrocereus undulosus).
Most recently researchers have discovered the presence of the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) in the park as well. Listed as Endangered, the solenodon is one of the world’s most bizarre mammals: it is the only mammal to shoot venom out of its teeth like a snake. The solenodon is also a living fossil: virtually unchanged in the fossil record, solenodons ran underneath the feet of dinosaurs 75 million years ago. The Hispaniolan solenodon’s only living relative is in Cuba and is Critically Endangered.
The Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve is apart of the UNESCO Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve.