“It was an idea to see if it would catch on and it clearly hasn’t caught on. We may have underestimated how reluctant the average person would be to wrestle with an iguana and deal a death blow to it.”
– Fred Burton, Department of Environment’s terrestrial resources manager
The Cayman Islands government’s big idea – to supplement professional green iguana cullers with a volunteer “lizard lotto” – turned out to be a bad idea.
Here are the numbers:
According to various government estimates, Grand Cayman’s invasive green iguana population is doubling every 12 months and now stands at roughly 1 million reptiles
Mr. Burton reckoned that in order to contain and ultimately reduce the population, cullers would have to eliminate about 750,000 iguanas per year, or 62,500 per month
In May, the first month of the government’s new iguana program, the number of iguanas culled was 1,437.
As Mr. Burton points out, it seems the ordinary resident lacks the killer instinct required to execute the scheme (and the lizards), even when tempted with cash prizes. Government officials might be disappointed in the paucity of blood lust among Cayman’s people. We sure aren’t.
In this case, it would be far worse for the “community culling” program to have been a runaway success. (Can you imagine throngs of amateur cullers hunting down and killing thousands of green iguanas, probably in brutal fashion and possibly in public spaces, in full view of relatively squeamish bystanders, including tourists? No thanks. Not before breakfast.)
Faced with the dismal results, Mr. Burton – Cayman’s chief green iguana eradicator – has gleaned some observations about the culling program: The bounty of $2 per iguana hasn’t drawn near the same level of interest among professional cullers as the previous bounty of $5 per iguana. The “entry fee” of 10 dead iguanas for the “community raffle” seems to have been too high a hurdle, with only nine people signing up so far.
In an attempt to “fix” the program, the Department of Environment is changing the rules of the raffle. Participants will now get a ticket for every iguana they kill, and a $1,000 prize draw will be held after 500 iguanas are captured and culled.
Sweetening the pot is one way to go … But we’d go in a different direction: Don’t try to “fix” the community culling program – kill it.
Mr. Burton seems to understand this, saying it will require a multimillion-dollar, multiyear contract with professional cullers to manage the iguana population effectively.
“[Government officials] will have to decide if they want to put that type of financial resources into this problem, because anything less than that could be a waste of money, I’m afraid,” Mr. Burton told the Compass.
We assume he’s telling the same thing to his bosses at the department, ministry and Cabinet levels. Are they listening?
We’ll amplify the message using our editorial megaphone.
So far, in this battle of Man vs. Nature, the iguanas are winning. Multiplication is trumping subtraction.
If that is an acceptable outcome, then officials should do nothing, and save precious taxpayer funds. If that is not acceptable, then officials should get serious and budget accordingly.
Whether you’re in a schoolyard, a backyard or on a battlefield, the first rule is never to get into a fight unless you’re planning to win. Grand Cayman’s green iguanas are committed to this game of life and death.