Thu | Aug 22, 2019

Green Iguana a major problem in Cayman … Aggressive effort under way to control population

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:49 AMChristopher Serju - Gleaner Writer
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Premier of the Cayman Islands, Alden McLaughlin, is reporting significant success in the country’s latest effort to control the Green Iguana ( Iguana iguana), an invasive species that has been wreaking havoc on the island’s efforts in agriculture and horticulture. In addition, the reptile has proven to be a nuisance for hoteliers and householders alike.

Imported as pets more than 30 years ago, the Green Iguana population exploded in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 when several cages were smashed and many escaped into the wild.

By October 2018, when the government introduced a one-year culling programme, offering CI$5 a head for each reptile, their numbers were estimated at 1.7 million and growing.

“The last number I have is 830,000 dead iguana and lots of very happy people back home who carried out this exercise,” Premier McLaughlin told The Sunday Gleaner last Tuesday, during the Denbigh Agriculture, Industrial and Food Show.

“We are now embarking on a census because we have just come through the breeding season again so there are lots of youngsters running around. We will make an assessment then and decide how much longer to continue the current programme. The current programme is a year so it’s funded through to October, but we’ll see whether it needs to be continued beyond that, but my instincts and appreciation of the situation back home is that it will require us to continue.”

Cullers must be Caymanian and register to participate in the programme for which they are paid CI$50 if they meet their quota requirement, and CI$4.50 if the number of reptiles they bring in fall below that number.

“Of course, cullers won’t be bringing in the high numbers but these creatures breed so quickly and are so prolific in their breeding that we need to keep them under control, because for farmers and gardeners, they pose a huge nuisance and are extremely destructive,” said McLaughlin.

SAVE THE BLUE IGUANA

This is because iguanas are primarily herbivorous, consuming fruits, vegetables, flowers and leaves from over 100 different plant species. Their diet is rarely, if ever, supplemented with animal matter.

Premier McLaughlin cited the irony that while efforts are under way to eradicate the Green Iguana from Cayman, a major conservation fight is ongoing to save the Blue Iguana ( Cyclura lewis), an endangered species of lizard endemic to the island of Grand Cayman.

“We have a very successful programme which has allowed them to recover significantly. I think there are about 2,000 in the wild now and then on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, they have two other species that we are trying to protect as well. And so we are trying to protect these endemic species, while trying to wipe out this green iguana, but I think things are going very well,” he said.

The website of the International Iguana Foundation, which is ‘working to save the world’s most endangered lizards’, reports that according to the International Union for Conservation of Species (IUCN), the Sister Islands Rock Iguana ( Cylclura nubila caymanensis) found only on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, is critically endangered, with an estimated population of between 2,000 and 4,000.

Also listed by the IUCN is Jamaica’s own Rock Iguana ( Cyclura collie), which is so critically endangered. Its population is estimated at between 200 and 300 lizards.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com