Cayman is exploring humane ways to get rid of green iguanas, which are not native to Cayman and are often considered pests.
“We’re here today to talk about green iguanas and to talk about controls, and it’s high time we start thinking very seriously about control measures for the iguana population,” Paul Watler of the National Trust said duirng a lecture at St. Matthew’s University last week.
One humane method of control discussed is castration. Last week, four male iguanas were neutered by U.S. experts Dr. Matt Johnson and Dr. Eric Klaphake. They plan on performing 10 more such procedures before they return to the U.S.
“This is not a difficult procedure to perform … so we’re looking at exploring this to see if this is something that can help us to manage these populations without having to do a major surgery…,” Dr. Klaphake said Thursday.
After the procedure, the reptiles are injected with a painkiller and released back into the wild.
“As soon as we set the iguanas on the ground, they take off running. They seem comfortable…so we’re fairly confident that what we’re doing isn’t causing a whole heck of a lot of harm to the animal,” said Dr. Johnson.
The idea is that the simple procedure can be taught to local conservation officers to help reduce the iguana population. There are roughly 60,000 iguanas in Cayman, according to a Department of Environment survey.
Green vs. blues
Besides being a nuisance to local gardeners, the Central American reptiles also pose a threat to Cayman’s indigenous, endangered blue iguanas.
“The green iguana population is getting so high that they are starting to disperse from what they would consider ideal habitat…This is going to end up putting them into contact with blue iguanas. In fact, it has already,” said Mr. Watler.
The herbivores have no natural predators in Cayman and could potentially exhaust the blue iguana’s food supply.
“More than anything, we’re concerned about the vegetation. Our ecosystem is not adapted to having a huge reptile population that’s constantly foraging on our vegetation. We have quite a high level of plant diversity here in Cayman, he said. “The danger is not really inherent in green iguanas as a species. The issue really is with the size of the population. It has grown out of control and it has done so very quickly.”
The greens have been an increasingly common sight in Grand Cayman during the past decade, and in 2010 the Animals Law was amended to remove protection of the invasive species.
Just because an animal is an invasive species does not mean it should be killed inhumanely, said Dr. Johnson.
“Population control of invasive species is a multifaceted problem, and there needs to be solutions that fit those facets. Turning the local population loose with guns and knives is not an effective means of control.
If the neutering program proves successful, Dr. Johnson said, iguana wrangles, similar to lionfish culling, could be carried out in the future.
“We’d train people from DoE on how to humanely euthanize, and then we [would] have iguana wrangles, where people come and catch as many as they can, bring them to a place where they are taken care of humanely at a set facility.”
The plan is to neuter at least 10 iguanas for observation, said Dr. Johnson. So far, the procedures have gone well, he said.
The iguanas that have been neutered will be observed by St. Matthew’s students over the coming weeks to see if the green iguanas still attempt to mate.