The invasion has started.
Residents of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are reporting sightings of green iguanas in the Islands.
The iguanas have been an increasingly common presence in Grand Cayman during the last decade, but until recent years, it appeared they had not made the crossing to the Sister Islands.
Department of Environment staff have been called out to deal with a small handful of cases on both Islands, but warn that a close eye has to be kept on the number of green iguanas showing up there or the population could get out of control, like it has in Grand Cayman.
“We have had reports of green iguanas from the Brac and Little Cayman – several in recent years,” said the Department of Environment’s Mat Cottam.
He said it was likely some green may have “hitched rides” in shipping containers and that in the past people had brought green iguanas on the Islands as pets. “We hope that people will know better these days,” he said.
“Green iguanas have potential to be invasive in the Brac and Little Cayman just as they are in Grand Cayman, so we take these reports very seriously. DoE conservation officers have responded to all reports from both Islands and, to the best of my knowledge, all have been successfully dispatched to date,” he said.
He said DoE staff had dealt with two or three on Little Cayman and one or two on the Brac.
Mr. Cottam said invasive species require immediate response for efficient control, because once established, eradication is usually effectively impossible.
The Department of Environment does not respond to calls regarding green iguanas on Grand Cayman, but it is trying to prevent the reptiles from becoming established on the Sister Islands.
“If members of the public cannot catch and dispatch the animals themselves, we encourage them to contact local DoE Conservation Officers immediately: In Little Cayman, Keith Neale, in the Brac Erbin Tibbetts and Robert Walton,” he said.
A survey of iguanas, funded by the Department of Environment, the National Trust and the Reptile Conservation Foundation, is under way on Cayman Brac with volunteers tracking and tagging rock iguanas.
Bonnie Edwards, liaison on the iguana survey, said the project also involved finding out how many green iguanas were on the Island and she urged anyone who spots a green iguana to call the “iguana hotline” on 917-7744.
“We’ve already had some calls, about two, about green iguanas. When we get them, we give those reports to the Department of Environment enforcement officers,” she said.
“They have to cull them. We love all iguanas, but the green ones don’t belong here and they are a threat to the native rock iguana,” she said.
District Commission for Cayman Brac Ernie Scott also confirmed green iguanas had been seen on the Brac.
“For the longest while, we didn’t have any of them here, but I am reliably informed that we have them here on the Brac now,” he said.
Mr. Scott said that while it did not appear as though there were too many green iguanas around right now, “I am well aware that those creatures can add up over time and cause problems.”
The key to preventing a widespread appearance of an invasive species is to nip it in the bud and capture and kill the non-indigenous creatures before they have time to multiply.
Paul Watler of the Cayman Islands National Trust advised residents or visitors to the Brac or Little Cayman to immediately report sightings of green iguanas. He said it was vital to get the word out on the Sister Islands that green iguanas were invasive and should be reported whenever they are seen.
“It’s no good going back a day later and trying to find the iguana,” he said.
Until 2010, it was illegal to catch and kill any iguanas, including the green iguanas.
The Animals Law was amended in 2010 to remove the inadvertent protection of the non-native green iguanas. The law originally mandated the protection of all iguanas, although when it was originally written when the only iguanas in the Cayman Islands were the indigenous blue and rock iguanas.
Mr. Cottam admits it is unlikely that the green iguana will ever be eradicated from Grand Cayman as “the situation here was allowed to persist for too long”.
“Despite persistent pressure from the DoE, the situation was allowed to continue under outdated conservation legislation, which remains in place to this day. While the existing legislation (Animals Law) was eventually amended to remove the unintentional protection it afforded to the green iguanas, this measure came too late for Grand Cayman,” Mr. Cottam said.
He added: “Until the Islands can benefit from a comprehensive conservation legislation, such as the draft National Conservation Law, it will be a matter of time before the next invasive species issue presents itself, and when it does DoE will be similarly powerless to take appropriate action.”