One lesson about wars: Don’t declare them if you do not intend to win them.
The Cayman Islands now finds itself in the embarrassing, but predictable, position of declaring war on the infestation of green iguanas but never providing the weapons and financial resources needed to win that war.
Instead, we entered the battle with gimmicks, silly schemes and fingers-crossed forecasts about our chances of success.
Last week, reality began to set in.
The Department of Environment’s Fred Burton told the National Conservation Council that just under 30,000 iguanas were culled during a seven-month program that paid bounty hunters $3 per head. That is less than 5 percent of what he estimates would be needed to bring about a meaningful reduction in the green iguana population.
In the unattractive spirit of “we told you so,” we remind government and the National Conservation Council that when this editorial board first heard of its breathtakingly absurd “war plan” – in effect “deputizing” iguana hunters with air rifles or garrotes and paying them a bounty on the corpses they produced – we dubbed the plan, not totally facetiously, a “Lizard Lotto.”
The good news, if there is any, is that this amateur army, while eliminating only 30,000 iguanas, has not (to the best of our knowledge) eradicated any homo sapiens.
Last June, Mr. Burton foresaw the easily foreseeable. He said this: “[The culling scheme] 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.”
Nevertheless, faced with imminent failure, the Department of Environment wasted more time (while the iguanas were merrily multiplying) by tinkering with, rather than abandoning, its approach. The department announced that participants in the cull going forward would receive a ticket for every iguana they kill. The tickets would then be placed in, we presume, a big box, raffle style, and the “winner” would get a $1,000 prize.
Anyone want to guess how that turned out?
What is surprising is the scope and scale of the effort Mr. Burton said would be needed to eradicate the pests. He estimated that to start reducing the number of green iguanas on island, cullers would have to capture and destroy 600,000 to one million animals – a feat that would require multiple culling businesses employing dozens of iguana hunters over several years.
The cost of such a program would far surpass the $1.1 million government has allocated for iguana culling in 2018.
Mr. Burton told conservationists he is not convinced that it makes sense to continue an iguana culling program that cannot hope to keep pace with the growth in population.
Of course, he is correct. Why waste another day, or another dollar, on a plan that has virtually no chance of succeeding. Put simply, but obviously, the government really has only two choices here: Fund it or forget it.
In order to make that Hobson’s Choice intelligently, we would expect government to develop a “business case” that would examine each alternative. At the least, it would include realistic costs of an eradication program, as well as an analysis of the consequences of ignoring the problem and doing absolutely nothing.