EDITORIAL – Iguana cull gets tougher with fewer ‘easy pickings’

Three months into Grand Cayman’s massive green iguana culling operation, the island’s invasive lizards are on the run.

Cayman’s cullers have removed some 380,000 of the reptiles from yards, golf courses and treetops, and deposited them at the George Town landfill, according to the latest figures from the Department of Environment.

If the cullers manage to maintain their average rate of iguana elimination, they would be well above the pace required to meet the country’s ambitious goal of culling 1.3 million green iguanas by the end of this year.

The key word in the above sentence, of course, is “if.”

As was expected, and as noted by Fred Burton, the DoE’s point man on the iguana operation, cullers are finding it harder to bag iguanas, as iguanas are becoming harder to find. There are still plenty of iguanas “out there” in Grand Cayman – but they are in areas that are increasingly remote and more difficult for hunters to penetrate. The days of plucking unsuspecting iguanas from lawn chairs, pool sides and outdoor patios have been supplanted by arduous hours delving into deep bush, scouring the countryside and canvassing wooded areas, one tree at a time.

Also predictably, as the “easy pickings” have diminished, so too has the number of active cullers. In late January, Mr. Burton said that of the 348 cullers who originally signed up for the program, about 100 had since dropped out or never really been active.

As we report in today’s front page story, the DoE put out an appeal to replenish its ranks, and has added some 115 new foot soldiers to Cayman’s army of cullers. This strategy is both wise and necessary, considering that in the fight for survival, the green iguana’s main weapon is its impressive rate of reproduction: Green iguanas become sexually mature at the age of about 3 years; about two or three months after mating, a female lays a clutch of 20-70 eggs at a time, which hatch after three or four months.

Now that the initial buzz of the culling program has subsided, Cayman’s cullers and Cayman’s iguanas are locked in a long-term war of attrition … or, to put it in arithmetical terms: a war of “subtraction” (cullers) versus “multiplication” (iguanas).

Cayman’s cullers aren’t just targeting the iguanas of today, but the potential future generations of iguanas that could again invade the country’s residential and tourism areas if cull totals drop below a certain (but unknown) threshold, undoing months of hard work and millions of taxpayer dollars spent.

In general, we are skeptical when it comes to conflicts of “Man vs. Nature” and attempts to out-guess God with often ill-fated animal management practices. But now that officials have taken our country into war against the invasive green iguanas, laid out clearly defined goals, and committed significant resources to the effort, it is up to the government to persist in winning not just a temporal battle but, most likely, a war without end.