After a few lean months, Cayman’s army of green iguana cullers are starting to hit their targets again.
An increase in temperatures and the advent of breeding season has brought the lizards out of hiding and prompted a surge in weekly cull numbers.
Hunters turned in 24,930 carcasses to the landfill last week – the highest total in a single week since December last year.
The total number of green iguanas killed since the beginning of the cull is now approaching 600,000 – meaning government has committed to paying approximately $3 million to the cullers.
The project will continue until at least the end of the year, with the goal of culling a minimum of one million iguanas.
Fred Burton, the Department of Environment’s terrestrial resources manager, said the surge in weekly cull numbers was encouraging. Numbers had dipped to a low of 10,000 a week in April.
Burton said the iguanas appeared to have adapted their behaviour in the wake of the onslaught, but breeding season has brought them into the open.
“When the males start to focus on competing with each other and connecting with females,” he said, “it makes them more vulnerable to being spotted and culled.
“When you combine that with the rising temperatures – hot iguanas are active iguanas – it is no surprise that we are seeing an increase in numbers.”
Though breeding season has begun, the hatchlings are not expected to emerge for another few months.
“It is too early for them to be swarming out in large numbers,” Burton said.
“So this increase is not a result of this year’s hatchlings. It is a result of the change in behaviour. We had hoped we would see this but we didn’t know it would be to this extent. It is very encouraging.”
He said the addition of new teams of cullers had also made an impact, though the lion’s share of the kills are still coming from a handful of highly organised, professional firms.
Despite periodic complaints about the behaviour of some cullers, the DoE has not yet pulled anyone’s licence for breaking the rules of the cull.
Burton said the department did occasionally receive reports of cullers operating on private land without permission, among other complaints. But without specific identification, he said it was difficult to act, other than through general reminders and warnings to all cullers.