The invasive green iguana is causing a stir on Grand Cayman with reports of frustrated members of the public killing them because they are a nuisance.
But there are those who are horrified by the treatment these creatures are receiving despite their protected status.
Alison Corbett, project manager with Cayman Wildlife Rescue said, ‘While this is an invasive species and we do need to control it, it needs to be done humanely.
‘They need to be euthanized by registered veterinarians and not killed by members of the public. All animals deserve to be treated with humane treatment.’
Ms Corbett said the voluntary group has had numerous reports over the years of these animals being beaten, tortured, tied up, slaughtered and eaten.
Referring to the fact that Grand Cayman is now overrun with this invasive species, Ms Corbett said, ‘People are now taking the situation into their own hands and it is the animals that will suffer.’
Brian Crichlow, acting assistant director at the Department of Agriculture – which is responsible for animal welfare – said they have very recently received reports of animals being treated in such a way and killed.
‘The animal welfare officer is investigating the matter. We can’t comment further until we get a report back on this,’ Mr. Crichlow said.
The current edition of Flicker, the monthly bulletin of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment’s Terrestrial Ecology Unit, states that the exploding green iguana population has reached new levels this month and the Department has received many calls from frustrated members of the public.
‘Observations of the animals defecating in swimming pools, feeding on fruits and vegetables, garden flowers and predating native birds’ eggs, have raised concerns from homeowners and scientists alike,’ it reads.
Senior Research Officer with the Department of Environment Mat DaCosta-Cottam explained that green iguanas are not native wildlife and that they are becoming pests.
‘They are an exotic and invasive pest in the Cayman Islands, and a growing nuisance to residents and a threat to local wildlife, including birdlife. They are rapidly spreading throughout Grand Cayman.’
Mr. DaCosta-Cottam added, ‘They are, however, currently protected under the Animals Law. The Animals Law was written in 1976, with the intention of protecting local iguanas (blues and Sister Islands’ rock iguanas). The green iguanas have appeared on island since then, however as the letter of the law states ‘iguanas… are protected’ they are technically protected.’
He explained that the remit of the Department of Environment is one of conservation of native wildlife, the natural environment and natural resources.
‘Because green iguanas constitute a significant threat to the natural environment, their preservation is counter to the remit of DoE, and counter to the purposes for which the Animals Law was originally written.
‘This is one reason why our local conservation legislation is in critical need of updating, and the National Conservation Law is so badly needed. Were the Conservation Law to be passed, the protected status of the green iguana would be lifted, facilitating humane control.’
Regardless, he said that DoE does not condone cruelty to any animal, including exotic species.
The Minister responsible for the environment, Mark Scotland, had not responded by press time to questions on what his Ministry is doing to deal with this situation or what he intends to do with the National Conservation Law.
Ms Corbett said since all iguanas are protected with no differentiation between them, people harming the green iguanas are actually breaking the law.
‘Whether anyone is prosecuting these offenders remains to be seen,’ she said.
‘Until we have the law changed, we can’t do anything to tamper with them. We need a proper law to address the problems with invasive species such as green iguanas. Of course this should have been done years ago because now the place is totally overrun with them.
‘In the mean time, people need to write to their elected officials and ask them to do something about the green iguana problem.’
She said that the sick and injured reptiles brought in to Wildlife Rescue are placed with people as pets if they are healthy or they euthanize them if they are not in a good state.
‘For most of them it’s too late,’ she said.
She advised that if people do need to get green iguanas off their property they are easy to scare away.
‘You can chase them off your property,’ she said.