EDITORIAL – Cayman’s cullers have invasive iguanas at bay

Two-and-a-half weeks into Grand Cayman’s “great green iguana cull,” local hunters had bagged 111,732 of the invasive reptiles, according to figures from the Department of Environment. That’s an impressive start toward the year-long target of 1 million iguanas.

The program’s initial success has been achieved by hundreds of cullers who have taken to the roadsides, parks, yards, bush, woods and grassy areas to ply their important but unpleasant trade. Armed with rifles, poles, nooses, nets, hooks and a hodgepodge of homemade implements, they systematically flush out the iguanas and exterminate them. Playing the Grim Reaper for the skittering lizards is a tough job – as readers will find upon reading today’s Page One immersive story about cullers on their rounds.

Although cullers are, if anything, working harder as time goes by, the daily totals of culled iguanas are predictably decreasing as the easiest targets are eliminated. Already, cullers are moving operations from heavily populated areas and venturing further into less developed country to locate their prey.

Some cullers swear the survivors of these early efforts are more than lucky – that the green iguanas they encounter are much warier now of humans, whether because of their own brushes with death, or from observing their compatriots’ timely ends. No problem – the cullers are also learning.

Even the seasoned pros are honing their skills and senses during this initiative – the magnitude of which overseers call “historic.”

Except for a few early wrinkles (i.e., reports of headless iguana carcasses floating in canals, close brushes with live power lines), the cull appears to be progressing quite smoothly, with residents growing accustomed to the sight of armed men peering intently into trees. No stories have emerged of passersby or personal property becoming “collateral damage” through misplaced zeal for iguana eradication.

Of course, as we have written, the real measure of the culling project will occur not after three weeks, but after three months … and six months, and a year, and beyond … as iguanas continue to become harder to find and harder to catch.

At the current pace, within a year’s time, a million iguanas or more will have been removed from Grand Cayman, and $9 million will have been removed from government’s coffers for the program. Birds, crops and flora will be safer from egg-eating and plant-munching reptiles, and endemic blue iguanas will enjoy greater room to breathe (and breed).

But even if the great green iguana cull is perfectly “executed,” the short-term effort won’t be sufficient to solve the long-term problem.

So even as you enjoy today’s on-the-ground narrative by journalist James Whittaker, we suggest that readers retain a “tree-top level” perspective on the issue of invasive species generally, and green iguanas specifically.

The laws of arithmetic and biology are immutable and irrefutable. As long as Grand Cayman is home to even one female iguana and one male iguana, the potential exists for there to be a million more. There’s no such thing as a permanent truce.

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  1. A few years ago we visited South Georgia island near Antarctica. We were told about a rat problem caused by their accidental introduction on whaling ships.
    There were millions of them destroying other wildlife.
    They determined it was necessary to eradicate every last one. If just one breeding pair was left they would soon be back where they started.
    Remember that green iguanas lay 20 eggs at a time 4 times a year and we are not in that different a situation.