Strategies explored to rid island of green iguanas

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.”  

Humane eradication  

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. 


Cayman officials are considering humane ways to reduce the green iguana population on island. PHOTO: SAMANTHA BONHAM

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  1. This is the best news I have heard this year. These iguanas are becoming a nuisance. They are now even attacking dogs. I have one living in my yard for 10 years. He has eaten all the fruits from my trees, brought other friends to terrorize my dog and he rushed my little dog and licked him in his eye with his tail. I cannot get rid of him because I am afraid of his aggressiveness. Put a bounty on their heads, big and small. Amnesty, bring them in and pay 5.00 for each one and see how fast they will be cleaned up. Some people eat them. So they can be sold for meat or what ever, but they need to go and the only way they will go is by putting a bounty on their heads.

  2. So how is going to the effort of catching and castrating them a better way of control than just killing them? Seems if you’ve done the hard work of catching them you might as well get rid of them. Either that or sell them as pets, should be able to supply the reptile collectors the world over with the number we’ve got.

  3. I agree with Joseph on this, Iguana’s sell in pet shops all over the US a Baby one can go for as much as 30 Dollars and large ones especially if tamed can easily sell for 100 dollars so why not let a resourceful Caymanian start an export business for pet Iguana’s.

    Another alternative is to put them the menu like Twyla suggested, they may just help replace Turtle steaks.

  4. It is about time that it was realized that something needs to be done about the pests. I do not agree with the export idea as that would only mean they become an invasive species somewhere else. The neutering idea is good but seems unduly time consuming. Just like the lion fish cull people could be licensed to cull them in some form or fashion. I would be the first in line as it seems I have missed the chance to help with the lion fish. But what has happened with the lion fish culling is that allot of the spears seemed to be taken off island. So I think it should be regulated in some way as to not have the same thing happen with whatever will be used for the iguanas. These greens have become a huge nuisance and yes are extremely aggressive. I have personally watched a big one chase a lady into her house after she tried to shoo it away from her plants. Something needs to be done yesterday not tomorrow or the next day like other things seem to be put off till.