Don’t blame Fred Burton. He’s a good guy bearing really bad news.
Formerly of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and now with the Department of Environment, Mr. Burton no doubt knows more about the procreation of iguanas than anybody in the Cayman Islands, probably in the Caribbean, and possibly anywhere.
So when Mr. Burton reports that “the scale of the green iguana control challenge exceeds DoE’s current capacity, and requires government to consider options to resource this major undertaking,” we believe him.
We think Mr. Burton and environmental officials have a pretty good reckoning of the magnitude of Grand Cayman’s invasive green iguana problem … and it’s enormous.
By the numbers, back in June, Grand Cayman was home to some 500,000 tree-loving green iguanas (not to be confused with our native, ground-bound blue iguanas, of which there are about 1,000). The green iguana population is expected to double every 1.5 years, meaning that by the end of the year 2017, there will be 1 million of the foliage-munching, roadkill-ready, porch- and pool-befouling reptiles on our island.
Armed with that arithmetic — not to mention air rifles, nooses and traps — various groups of hunters participated in the department’s iguana culling pilot projects in June. Over a period of two weeks, nearly 19,000 iguanas were, ahem, “removed” from the herd.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the effects of the culling efforts appeared to be just about as Mr. Burton and the department had anticipated: temporary and marginal. As the Compass reported last week, officials noted that the iguana population at target sites “had rebounded to 80 percent of its original level within two weeks.”
In other words, while hunters were busy making war against the iguanas, the iguanas were busy making … even more iguanas.
After the “disappointing” test results, Mr. Burton reported, “DoE estimates a cull of 177,500 adult and sub-adult iguanas per year will be necessary to initiate a decline in the green iguana population if we begin the operational cull in 2017. This implies an operation almost 10 times larger than the recent experimental culls.”
Extrapolating the costs of June’s pilot project, at a bit more than $5 per iguana hide, a full-scale culling effort should cost in the ballpark of $1 million per year. That doesn’t take into account additional government resources required for monitoring, processing, bookkeeping, taking care of “accounts payable” and other supporting administrative functions, or, importantly, disposing of the roughly 200 tons of iguana carcasses that would be generated annually.
That being said, the issue to us isn’t whether our government has the money — cutting the check is the easy part — but whether our government has the requisite ability and will for such a sustained and arduous task.
Not only that, but remember that green iguanas aren’t the only out-of-control animal population in Cayman, and aren’t even the most potentially destructive. We’re also dealing with legions of lionfish, roving packs of “free-living” dogs, flocks of wild chickens, cacophonous conglomerations of cats, nests of scorpions, swarms of disease-harboring mosquitoes, etc.
We’re not admitting defeat, but in this particular battle of Man vs. Nature … Nature may have Man on the ropes — or up a tree.