Last year was open season on the invasive green iguana population in Grand Cayman.
The nationwide cull, which began at the end of 2018, was more successful than even the most optimistic officials at the Department of Environment can have imagined.
By the end of the year, the number of carcasses turned in at the landfill site since the cull began was ticking towards 1.1 million.
Professional hunters and citizen cullers have been out in force throughout the year. Armed with air rifles and nooses, they have cleared the treetops and canalside lots, decimating the populations of the invasive lizard.
The drastic action followed years of concern over the impact the exploding green iguana population was having on the ecosystem of Grand Cayman.
The latest survey done by the DoE in August suggests the cull is working, with the population numbers dropping more than 90% since last year’s count.
The survey estimate suggested there may be as few as 103,000 green iguanas left in Grand Cayman.
Another invasive lizard found
While the cull focused on green iguanas, cullers discovered a knight anole at Vigoro Nursery in Lower Valley, during the second month of the hunt.
The species caused concerns when it was first discovered, as local environmentalists note that it can be problematic when introduced to environments outside of its natural range.
Like green iguanas, knight anoles are prolific breeders that could put native species at risk.
However, the DoE stated that the species is believed to be here only in small numbers.
There were no more reported discoveries of the knight anole following the first finding during the cull.
The great green iguana cull began in late 2018.
On 29 Oct., 348 people registered to take part. During the first week, cullers delivered 53,953 green iguanas to the George Town landfill, the largest number recorded in a single week.
Since then, numbers have fluctuated from that high to a low of 4,925 in the 40th week.
The cull numbers slowed throughout the summer months, as hunting efforts were impacted by heavy rainfall during the wet season.
The DoE’s terrestrial resources manager Fred Burton said he was delighted with the response from the public at the time. Cayman’s green iguana cullers are paid $4.50 per iguana, with that sum rising to $5 if they meet monthly and annual targets. The cullers hit the one million target within the first year of the effort.
Burton told the Cayman Compass at the time, “It is a credit to the cullers who have been going at this with gusto, and I am glad to see we have passed that 1 million mark.”
Iguana on the menu
Cayman Islands chefs made use of the thousands of culled animals.
Thomas Tennant, one of the chefs who helped pioneer an “eat ‘em to beat ‘em” approach to tackling the invasive lionfish took a similar strategy with green iguanas.
Tennant said making the invasive lizards a marketable food source was the only way to ensure numbers stayed down in the long term.
He demonstrated at Taste of Cayman, the KAABOO festival and Cayman Cookout to help convince more chefs to get involved.
Tennant acknowledged at the time that people were reluctant to eat lizard, but he believes both lionfish and iguana have a unique appeal to eco-conscious diners who want to eat meat while helping the environment.
The cull continues
The budget was renewed for a continued effort to suppress green iguana numbers and prevent them from rebounding. Burton said it would be necessary to keep going.
“We’ll continue through next year and the year after. I think it is quite important to do that, even though the culling numbers are going to be much, much lower,” Burton said.
He added, “If we slap ourselves on the back and say ‘Job well done’, it is only going to be a few years before we are back where we started. It is very important that we keep going.”