Iguana Workout: Rare Iguana Participates in Training Session at the San Diego Zoo

An Anegada ground iguana named Gus participated in a “target training” session with a reptile keeper earlier this morning (Oct. 6) at the San Diego Zoo. During these sessions, a keeper asks the 31-year-old Gus to walk to a spot where a target is placed. Once Gus successfully completes the behavior, the keeper hits a clicker, letting the iguana know he did what was asked of him, and then the keeper rewards him with a special treat of sweet potato to positively reinforce the behavior.

 An Anegada ground iguana named Gus participates in a “target training” session with reptile keeper, Joey Brown, at the San Diego Zoo.

“Target training is extremely beneficial for Gus’ well-being,” stated Joey Brown, reptile keeper, San Diego Zoo. “The training provides exercise and mental stimulation for the animal, and allows him to exhibit natural behaviors like foraging and climbing on rocks. It also allows us to train him to move from one location to another on his own initiative. With this training, we can target him to move into his warm cave on cold nights or to walk into a crate in the event we need to take him to the veterinary hospital for blood draws or medical procedures.”

Keepers report Gus was a good “student,” learning to hit his target in a series of short sessions in just over a month. Training sessions are held for approximately 10 minutes, two to three times a week—and Gus always seems eager to participate.


The Anegada ground iguana, native to Anegada Island in the British Virgin Islands, is a critically endangered species with an estimated population of just 200 individuals remaining in the wild. These iguanas have to compete with free-ranging livestock for vegetation, and avoid feral dogs and cats that prey on them.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has been working with iguanas in the Caribbean for the past 18 years and has a “headstarting” program on Anegada island. Iguana eggs are protected and hatchlings are taken into a captive setting when they are very young so they won’t be predated by feral cats. The iguanas are then released back into the wild at around two years of age. To date, the reintroduced iguanas are exhibiting a remarkable 87 percent survival rate. There also is a captive breeding program of Anegada iguanas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo can see Gus in his outdoor habitat on the Klauber-Shaw Reptile Walk.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on Oct. 6, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo