A plea has gone out to hunters in Cayman to put themselves forward for a massive, multi-year iguana-culling program.
Environment officials estimate they will need to cull at least 1.4 million iguanas – around 6,000 for every working day – in the first year of the project. They hope the cull can start as early as September and expect it to last several years.
The scale of the undertaking is unprecedented and will require at least 60 people to make killing iguanas their full-time profession.
The Department of Environment issued a request for information Tuesday, appealing for information from existing culling businesses, as well as casual hunters who took part in previous trial culls.
They want to see if those people can expand their businesses or set up new businesses to meet the challenge. The information will help determine the optimum strategy ahead of a formal request for proposals with multiple culling firms likely to be contracted by government to meet set monthly and annual targets in an ongoing eradication effort.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, acknowledged that the $1.1 million per year currently budgeted for tackling the invasive species in 2018 and 2019 was unlikely to be enough. She said those funds could be used to get the program started but the department will likely need to seek supplementary funding from the Environmental Protection Fund to maintain it.
Timing is critical because of the explosive population growth of the species. At the last population count, conducted in August 2018, researchers estimated the green iguana population at 1.1 million. Based on previous growth rates, they expect to find that figure has swelled to around 2 million, when they repeat the exercise this month. Unchecked, the green iguana population threatens to reach 4.6 million by 2020, something that environment officials believe would be a disaster for the ecosystem.
The request for information is essentially a fact-finding mission to establish what capacity exists locally to address the problem and what price point will be sufficient to entice hunters to scale up and become full-time cullers.
“There is a substantial opportunity here for some of the existing companies that cull for the private sector to ramp up their capacity,” Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said.
If sufficient cullers cannot be found in the Cayman Islands or businesses cannot increase their staffing levels to the required amount, she acknowledged that the department may have to look overseas for a solution.
She said developing an iguana-culling department – similar to the Mosquito Research and Control Unit – would be an absolute last resort.
“Our approach is to use private sector capacity,” she said. “We already know there are people out there culling iguanas. We want them to take this on for us. We don’t want to have to create a new unit unless it becomes obvious there is no other way to do it.”
Over the last two years, the department has piloted various methods of culling iguanas. The most successful involved deploying 29 hunters in a seven-day blitz in 2016 that yielded more than 14,000 iguanas. That project involved a mix of private culling firms and casual hunters who were paid a $5-a-head bounty.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said the problem was now so large it would require at least that kind of intense effort year round just to keep up with the rate of population growth.
He said he hoped those involved in the previous trials would be willing to seize the opportunity to scale up. He acknowledged that they may need to import labor to put enough cullers in the field to deal with the job. Ultimately, the Department of Environment hopes to leave the details of how the firms are organized and how the iguanas are culled to the businesses themselves.
As it stands, the culled iguanas would have to be disposed of at the landfill site.
To respond to the request for information, visit cayman.bonfirehub.com.