On a May night in 1974 in the District of Bodden Town, 793,103 mosquitoes were captured in a so-called “New Jersey light trap,” setting a world record that, to our knowledge, has never been broken. Three years earlier, some fool exposed his arm to mosquito bites in a South Sound swamp. More than 600 mosquitoes IN ONE MINUTE took advantage of the opportunity. Simply put, Grand Cayman held the ignominious title of being the most mosquito-infested location on the planet.
A few years earlier, an entomologist named Dr. Marco Giglioli, who was affiliated with London University, had been recruited to these islands with the singular challenge of eliminating or controlling the mosquito menace that flourished in our mangrove swamps and other hospitable habitats. Dr. Giglioli’s work, which spawned our modern-day Mosquito Control and Research Unit (MRCU), of course, is one of the great successes in modern Cayman history. It enabled these islands to progress into modernity as a tourist and commercial destination and, most importantly, improved the quality of life immensely for the people living here.
We recite this history because today, Grand Cayman finds itself in a different, but consequential, battle with another invasive species, the green iguana. It is a battle we are losing, and will lose, unless we radically revise our approach.
The numbers themselves tell the story and highlight the risk:
Less than two years ago, the green iguana population in Grand Cayman was estimated at 500,000.
Today the population is thought to be 2 million, projected to rise to 4.6 million by 2020.
Just one year later, in 2021, the number increases to 9.2 million, and by 2028, a decade from now, more than 1 billion!
Any banker who understands the principle of compound interest or any student of U.K. cleric and scholar Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), who studied population growth, knows that dollars, or people, or iguanas multiply not linearly but exponentially – if left unchecked. (Species, of course, are affected by factors other than procreation, such as loss of habitat, disease, predators, restriction of food supply, etc.)
Put another way, Cayman has a serious problem that, frankly, it is not taking seriously at all. To date, Cayman has come up with more silliness than substance (remember the “Lizard Lotto”) and its current scheme of arming private citizens and sending them off to kill approximately 6,000 iguanas PER DAY is far from comforting.
This plan raises some obvious questions and concerns, not yet addressed or, at least, made public, by government. Among them:
How do you kill iguanas? We hear air rifles may be the weapon of choice.
If so, where does one acquire an air rifle? A.L. Thompson and Cox Lumber tell us they do not keep them in stock. Can they be easily imported? Is a license required? Is any training needed?
What are the risk/liability implications for government if a “hunter” accidentally shoots another hunter – or worse, a civilian or, even worse, a tourist?
If the plan is to shoot 6,000 iguanas a day (and dare we point out that every 24-hour period includes a “Happy Hour”), these are not fanciful questions or concerns.
Every project of this magnitude, in order to succeed, requires at least three components:
First, a well-thought-out business plan that can withstand aggressive debate, disagreement and challenge. The plan must provide for useful measurements, such as an at-a-glance “scorecard,” to inform both project leaders and the public, as to whether the goals are being met.
Second, a commitment of substantial financial and human resources to ensure, or at least enable, a successful outcome.
Third, a champion, meaning an individual – certainly not a department or a committee – committed and dedicated to the focused task of driving this process to a triumphant conclusion.
To date, not one of these critical ingredients is in place. That is bad news for us – and good news for the iguanas.