Nearly a year’s worth of iguana culling has yielded “spectacular” results, according to officials at the Department of Environment, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over.
The DoE’s Fred Burton, who oversees the fight to rid Cayman of the invasive species, said an annual survey of green iguanas in August found an estimated population of 103,000, with a margin of error of ±43,000.
That marks a 92% drop in the 1.3 million iguanas estimated by last year’s survey, Burton said.
The population may actually be larger than 103,000, he said. The year’s hatchlings were in the process of emerging during the population survey. And this year’s crop was likely larger than usual.
“In some areas, we saw very large numbers of hatchlings,” Burton said. “I was in the Botanic Park a couple of weeks ago and we were seeing baby iguanas all over the place.”
Still, he said, the department is happy with the results.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re further ahead than I guessed we would have been,” Burton said. “We had a pretty good idea of what was possible, but there was a big element of uncertainty. I think we’re really pleased with where it has gone. The complaints (from residents) have been reasonably low and the results have been spectacular.”
The green iguanas are a nuisance to some residents and farmers as they often feed on houseplants and food crops. They also put pressure on the threatened native blue iguana population.
Contractors have been hunting and killing the lizards since late October 2018.
Burton said they are nearing 1 million iguanas that have been removed.
Even though the numbers are impressive, Burton cautioned that the culling effort needs to continue in force.
“These iguanas can literally double their numbers in a year,” he said. “If we stop now, we could be back to square one in three or four years.”
In the coming months, he said, further culling may require taking a district-by-district approach.
He said there would likely be greater efforts in getting permission for cullers to operate on private property. Aggressive measures need to continue on the Sister Islands as well, he said.
Government also needs to decide what the endgame for green iguanas looks like. Cayman will likely never be rid of the reptiles.
“Eradication is really unrealistic,” he said. “Even if we could, (Cayman) would be re-infested in no time. Almost all the islands in the Caribbean have this problem.”
1.3M: Estimated number of green
iguanas, as of August 2018.
103,000: Estimated number of green
iguanas, as of August 2019.