The green iguana is rapidly becoming the most successful land-dwelling species in the history of the Cayman Islands. (Emphasis on the word “rapidly.”)
As we reported in Tuesday’s Compass, the Department of Environment estimates Grand Cayman is now home to about 500,000 “common” green iguanas.
That number is, shall we say, growing. Actually, exploding — exponentially.
“Their population looks to be doubling every 1.5 years,” DoE Research Officer Jane Haakensson said.
As anyone in the banking industry will tell you, the concept of “compound interest” is one of the most powerful forces in the known universe. Over the past few decades, it’s worked wonders in our financial services sector. It’s resulting in similar miracles of multiplication in the green iguana population. But, apparently, it’s dire news for Grand Cayman’s foliage (which is iguana food) and animals (which are iguana competitors).
Fred Burton, of Blue Iguana Recovery Programme fame and now with the DoE, said the results of the department’s green iguana survey were “shocking” and “terrifying.”
We don’t know if we’re scared, exactly, by the numbers. But we are rather impressed.
Consider, Mr. Burton’s blue iguana program was started within the National Trust for the Cayman Islands in 1990. Its benchmark for success was to grow the blue iguana population until there were at least 1,000 of the native reptiles living in the wild.
At the green iguanas’ current rate of multiplication, there are approximately 1,000 green iguanas born in Grand Cayman every single day.
By the end of 2017, the DoE projects there will be 1 million green iguanas in Grand Cayman, in the absence of massive culling efforts. One million green iguanas certainly sounds like a lot. But how many is it exactly?
Let us attempt to put the size of Cayman’s green iguana population, and the government’s new efforts to eradicate them, into perspective:
Three experienced hunters, armed with air rifles and leading teams, managed to kill 4,000 green iguanas in two weeks. At that rate, it would take nearly 10 years to eradicate 1 million green iguanas
The carcasses of those 4,000 green iguanas weighed a combined 2 tons. The bodies of 1 million green iguanas would, then, weigh 500 tons (or 1 million pounds). That’s the equivalent of 75 African bush elephants. Imagine all that being tossed into the George Town Landfill. It probably won’t help the smell
The government has earmarked $200,000 from the Environmental Protection Fund toward developing the green iguana eradication program. With a bounty of $5 per “head,” that’s enough funding to cull 40,000 iguanas, which is 4 percent of 1 million — or six weeks’ worth of reproduction.
The ongoing weeklong “culling trial,” involving 18 approved iguana hunters (and whatever deputies they can round up to assist), is intended to help the government develop a comprehensive plan to attack the reptiles on a large scale.
In order to dispose of the green iguanas, each “registered culler,” and his posse, has an assortment of techniques and tools to consider for implementation: including air rifles, nooses and the up-close-and-personal “hand capture.”
It is unclear whether the $5-per-iguana bounty applies to roadkill scraped off our streets, or if that will be frowned upon as “counterfeit culling.”
One thing is clear, though, about this death struggle between hunters and the hordes of green iguanas: With guns, nooses, traps and machetes in play, and plenty of it playing out in residential areas — this isn’t going to be pretty.