Figures for culled green iguanas have reached more than three quarters of a million.
Numbers are on track to top 100,000 for June alone, after nearly hitting that target in May. Officials with the Department of Environment say warm weather, mating season and other elements have led to increased iguana activity, making them easier targets for cullers.
“The females are now moving out to nest sites,” said Fred Burton, who oversees land-based biodiversity for the department.
That movement makes them more vulnerable as they excavate their nests in open areas.
In recent days, Burton said, “I’ve noticed a number of road kills of females with eggs.”
From 1 to 22 June, just under 82,000 iguana carcasses were turned in at Cayman’s landfill. Since the most recent culling programme began in late October, a total of 767,000 iguanas have been killed. The estimated population at the start of the programme was 1.6 million.
Cullers remain ahead of the pace needed to reach the target of culling 1.3 million iguanas by the end of this year.
Burton said he expects the recent rise in numbers to continue for some time.
“It’ll keep going for a little while,” he said. “The nesting does peak around June and July, but it’s not like everyone nests at the same time. Some nests are laid much later.”
“The hatchlings are really easy to catch,” Burton said. “It’s going to be culling bonanza time.”
And, unlike the adults, the hatchlings have other predators to worry about besides humans.
“The native snakes, the racers, take them,” Burton said. “Great egrets and ching chings take them. We would expect that owls will take them, and other raptors.”
In addition, there are cats, dogs and cars.
Burton said there may be as many as 200,000 nests on the island, each with about 60 eggs.
“Not every nest is successful,” he added. Heavy rain can drown out a nest. Conversely, too much heat with no rain can dry out the eggs, killing the embryos.
The rise in activity is not expected to taper off until the winter months bring cooler weather. He’s hoping cullers will take advantage while more iguanas are out and about.
“We want to keep the cullers working as hard and as fast as they can,” he said.
Cullers are being paid $4.50 a head for iguanas, rising to $5 if they meet monthly and annual targets, in an effort to wipe out the invasive species in Grand Cayman.