September 17, 2021

Green iguana crisis overwhelming Cayman Islands

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From The Philadelphia Tribune

“Desperate times calls for desperate measures” is a quote that certainly applies to the situation in Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands.

The government officials of the Cayman Islands have been desperately searching for a solution for the explosion in the green iguana population on the island. According to a September 2016 article written by Jed Kim, the green iguanas have not only invaded the island but they have also been gobbling up the landscaped environments and the native flora.

Since the green iguana has no natural predators in this region its numbers continue to grow and, therefore, is posing a threat to the island’s native habitat and could cause drastic changes to the ecosystem.

The species was brought to the island in the 1980s as pets. Somehow one or more got loose in the wild and multiplied. They made their home in trees and buildings that are close to the water. At first, the presence of this iguana did not seem to be an issue at all. They may have scared a tourist or two but the problem was considered to be minimal and manageable.

Despite the fact that they have not yet figured out a way to control the population, the Cayman scientists are studying them because they are as close as they will come to a descendant of the herbivorous dinosaurs that lived more than 65 billion years ago. They believe that they might learn a lot about how dinosaurs behaved and lived.

Unlike the green iguana, the cherished blue iguana is regarded in Cayman as a very special animal. It is used by the tourist board to represent their country. It used to on postcards and travel brochures advertising the islands. In an effort to protect the endangered native blue iguana, the government passed a law prior to 2010 making it illegal to kill iguanas.

They should have specified that it is the blue iguana that could not be killed but they did not. As a result, the population of green iguanas started to increase tremendously. By May 2012, the Department of Environment launched an effort to reduce the green iguana population. They were everywhere and becoming a nuisance as well as a threat. There was a big concern that the problem could spread to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

By 2016, Frederic Burton, the manager of Terrestrial Resources Unit, within the Cayman’s Department of the Environment, confirmed that the green iguana invasion was a much more serious threat.

This is such a huge problem that it is only natural that Caymanians are attempting to solve this problem themselves. They are sick of the road kill, the damage to crops, flowers and plants, and finding the lizards taking a dip in their pools.

In 2015, scientists believed that there were about 152,000 of the reptiles; making them more than just a nuisance. Grand Cayman is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide, therefore it is hard to imagine that even when farmers have destroyed up to 20,000 green iguanas, those numbers were rebounded in about one week.

Burton pointed out that in a few years, their numbers could grow to almost 1 million. He made it clear that the destruction and disposing of these iguanas is a gruesome task. That is why it is critical to find another solution.

Since these iguanas are vegetarians, Caymanian leaders are promoting meat consumption of the green iguanas. They believe eating them will keep the population in check. Local chefs are being encouraged to create new dishes with this green iguana meat.

The Cayman Islands have been through a similar issue with the lionfish when this species invaded the waters surrounding the island and killed the fish that was native to the island. Similarly the Caymanian leaders promoted the consumption of the lionfish and eventually the problem became a blessing to many.

I cannot even begin to picture myself chowing down on a plateful of green iguana with rice and peas but more power to those who have the palate to experience eating this exotic dish. Maybe they can offer something new on the Cayman Christmas menu.

IMAGE: Green iguana was brought to the Grand Cayman Island as a pet, but its population has exploded to crisis level on the caribbean island. – AP Photo

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