The Department of Environment will begin registering cullers next week with the aim of starting its massive nationwide green iguana cull by the end of the month.
The DoE hopes to register all companies and individuals that will be involved in the cull and issue them with licenses in one week. Cullers must commit to killing at least 400 iguanas each month to be involved.
They will be paid between $4.50 and $5 per iguana, with incentives built in for those who meet quota targets. The aim is to kill at least one million iguanas in the first year of the cull.
A management company has been hired to count the iguanas, monitor the cull numbers, and pay the hunters. The cull, which is expected to cost around $7 million in its first year, could continue for several years, according to the DoE.
It is currently budgeted for around the first three months. DoE officials will have to provide a progress report to government that shows the cull is working before more funds are released.
Fred Burton, the terrestrial resources manager at the department, speaking at a press conference Thursday, said interest from the culling community had been strong enough to suggest that enough hunters could be recruited to meet the ambitious targets outlined.
Cullers use a mix of firearms, nooses and hunting dogs to target iguanas. Mr. Burton said police had agreed to re-issue amended firearms licenses to registered cullers to enable them to use .22 caliber air rifles close to roads and buildings, where iguanas are typically found. Cullers will be responsible for negotiating with private landowners if they wish to cull on private property.
Cayman’s green iguana population is currently estimated at 1.3 million, though that is expected to increase as breeding season kicks off around June next year. Mr. Burton said it was difficult to say with any certainty what percentage of the population could be eradicated in the first year.
He acknowledged that targets would have to be revised and the price per iguana may have to be increased as the “law of diminishing returns” kicks in and green iguanas become less abundant and more difficult to hunt.
“My gut feeling is that we are going to make a very significant impact on the iguana population over the next 14 months, but we have to expect the unexpected,” he said. “We have never done this before. No one has ever done this on this scale before.”
Interest in the cull has come from established iguana-control companies, as well as individuals and new companies forming to take advantage of the opportunity. Though they are seeking to register only serious cullers capable of killing 400 iguanas a month, Tim Austin, deputy director of the DoE, said there was nothing to stop “weekend warriors” forming a partnership and meeting that target collectively.
He said there would be nothing to stop companies that already cull iguanas in the private sector from double dipping and making money both from the government and private sector clients. Cullers will be required to declare their involvement in the cull to private clients but would still be able to accept a fee from strata corporations, for example, for culling on their land.
Companies are also able to sell the iguanas for food, if they are able to do so, and Spinion, a company that processes iguana meat for the food market, is also expected to be involved.
Mr. Burton accepted there had been no economic study done on the financial impact of the invasive green iguana population. He said it would be difficult to quantify precisely, but there were cost impacts for condo developments, farmers and even the Caribbean Utilities Company in iguana proofing their properties and infrastructure. He said there was a layer of environmental damage, including threats to endemic trees and bird populations, that was hard to put a dollar figure on.
Cullers can register from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday next week at the DoE headquarters on North Sound Road in George Town. To register as a culler, individuals must provide photo ID, proof of Caymanian status, and be over 18. Companies must also provide a valid trade and business license. For cullers planning to use air rifles, valid firearms licenses must also be provided at registration.
Cullers will be issued with information and guidelines, including advice on handling, humane culling, managing public sensitivities and directions on disposal of the iguanas, which will largely be at the landfill. No iguanas will be accepted before the cull start date of Oct. 29.