Caribbean Galapagos

Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta) Dominican Republic

I have spent the past week on the island of Hispaniola, arguably the most biodiverse in the Caribbean. With its high mountain ranges and cactus-filled deserts,the Dominican Republic feels more like a mini-continent, brimming with history: this was the site of Columbus’s first settlement in the New World.

I have been concentrating on the island’s many endangered species since, despite the remarkable diversity, much of the fauna is threatened by habitat loss and poor management.

One of my target species this week was the remarkable Rhinocerous Iguana, a 3 foot long reptile endemic to the island. To photograph them in the wild, I had to visit an island in Lago Enriquillo National Park where they live largely on fallen cactus fruit.

To get this shot, I assumed my usual prone position: almost always animals look better from their perspective rather than ours. (Too many of us shoot from a standing position, looking down on our subjects – never a recipe for success..) However, I made one crucial miscalculation. I lay down on top of two cactus segments covered with 2-inch spines. And yes, I was impaled in a VERY unhappy spot.  I went ahead and got my shots… and then proceeded to find a discreet place where I could remove the spines.

Still, it was worth it…I think…

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens – and a pair of tweezers


    Mr. Shafer, I think it has it’s eye on you! While I am not particularly taken with reptilian creatures, this one looks very impressive! I came across your site while searching for a platform to learn to build one of my own (having nothing to do with endangered species). Your kind of photography requires a level of knowledge, daring and physical stamina that I’m not likely to achieve in this lifetime, so am going to enjoy your photographs and learn from you at the same time!

    Hi Kevin, I??m a wildlife ecologist in the Dominican Republic (actually one of my research and conservation subjects have been Cyclura iguanas). Certainly not a pro, but I also enjoy wildlife photography as well). I would be interested to learn where you would be publishing the results of your visit here. Best

    Good to hear from you. This was a pretty quick survey of Dominican habitats and wildlife – a whirlwind 8 days all over the country from Bauruco to Samana. No hard publishing commitments now, but I will let you know if they will appear somewhere.

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