The first green iguana meat export shipment left the Cayman Islands Tuesday, raising hopes that the private sector could play a role in tackling the growing problems posed by the invasive species.
After a lengthy vetting and permitting process, Spinion Ltd. shipped 236 pounds of iguana to its American subsidiary to be processed for sale online.
The company aims to start on a small scale, targeting a niche food market in the United States largely made up of Central American expatriates. It hopes to generate a strong enough customer base to ship 500 pounds of iguana each week – equivalent to about 200 iguanas.
The figure is a drop in the ocean in the context of the 14,000 iguanas per week that environment officials say need to be killed to begin to make an impact on the invasive species.
But Spinion’s owners believe they can be a big part of the solution.
In the long term, the business owners hope to get into the pet-food industry, a move that would enable them to export significantly higher volumes of iguana.
Maria Yapelli, one of the founders of the business, said: “Currently the export is for human consumption. Once we get the dog food and dog treats going, we will be able to take field-slaughtered animals; then we would be talking about 2,000 pounds per week.”
She said processing iguana meat for dog food would require investment in research and development, but could be an avenue for the Cayman Islands to make a profit by getting rid of its unwanted iguanas.
“If we want to get big numbers of iguanas off this island, we need to get the dog food and dog treats going. If the government here would be willing to help us develop that, it could be a win-win,” she added.
“That would enable us to cull and get them off island without throwing them into the dump and potentially creating another health issue.”
Food safety regulations mean animals meant for human consumption have to be caught live and killed at Spinion’s processing plant in George Town. The company uses contractors to supply iguanas, caught with a noose, and has set up a pen in North Side where the animals can be left for collection. It plans to set up similar facilities in Bodden Town and West Bay.
Ms. Yapelli said Spinion would be increasing the amount of iguana it buys from ethical contractors, and adding Caymanian staff to work at its processing plant.
For now, though, she plans to bask for a few days in the triumph of making the first export shipment.
“It has been a long road with a lot of hurdles, but we are finally there. I’m so excited,” she said.