June 18, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Ignoring iguana problem is insane

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Colin Wilson2webAll of us who live here in the Cayman Islands must have noticed the invasion of the green iguanas that seem to be increasing in numbers every day.

It isn’t “seeming” at all – it really is.

We have visiting experts here looking at the numbers of these green iguanas and they are astounded. They say we should be worried.

Two of these experts, Lyndon John, of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, and Invasive Species Specialist Rick Vanveen, have been carrying out a regional study on the effects of invasive species. The study, called “The Best Project”, was funded by the European Union to help identify and cull invasive animals throughout a number of Caribbean countries including the Cayman Islands. Both gentlemen have teamed up with our Cayman Islands National Trust.

John said on CITN/Cayman 27’s news on Tuesday (3), “In the case of the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman in particular, I have been utterly shocked. I have never seen this kind of green iguanas anywhere.”


His colleague, Vanveen added, “If Cayman is to avoid an impending disaster, action must be taken now.”

Despite the animal’s name ‘green’, colour is variable across its native range—including green to grey- green, bluish-green with bold black markings (e.g. in Peru), lavender, black, reddish to orange (Costa Rica and Mexico) and even pinkish (on Caribbean islands). Their whip-like tail can deliver a painful blow.

Breeding starts when animals are three to four years old. Females lay clutches of 20–70 eggs once each year during a synchronised nesting period. Eggs are laid into burrows dug into the ground to a depth of 0.5–1 m. Eggs hatch after 90–120 days.

Captive-reared animals can live for over 20 years, but wild animals generally live for about eight years.

Damage caused by iguanas includes eating valuable landscape plants, shrubs and trees; orchids and many other flowers; and ripe fruit such as berries, figs, mangoes, tomatoes, bananas and lychees. Preferred foliage includes hibiscus, orchids, bougainvillea, roses, nasturtiums, garden greens (broccoli, mustard, sorrel, beets, lettuces), turf grasses and a range of weeds. Diet occasionally includes certain animal material such as insects, lizards and other small animals, nestling birds and eggs.

Green iguanas are reported to be posing a collision hazard on airport runways in Puerto Rico.

Not only may they have harmful ecological impacts but iguanas have become a serious nuisance species.

Eradication is very difficult. Green iguanas tend to live close to water where they can readily dive in and escape by swimming under water. They are also arboreal (tree-dwelling) and well camouflaged.

Iguana feces are odiferous, unsightly, and may harbour Salmonella bacteria. Because iguanas often prefer to defecate in or around water, it is not uncommon for an iguana to use a private pool as a defecation area. Large adults may be aggressive towards people and pets if they feel threatened.

At the present time it is estimated there are around 70,000 green iguanas living in the Cayman Islands and they should not be here.

We have been highlighting the sea water invasive fish – lionfish- with culls and eating them.

Surely it is about time these green iguanas are culled too?

Iguana meat has historically been important in the culinary traditions of Mexico and Central America; particularly in the states of Jalisco, Michoacán and Colima. In Fray Sahagún’s history of colonial Mexico, he mentions the iguana as a traditional food throughout Western Mexico and describes it as good to eat when properly prepared.

So come on restaurants let’s have iguana meat as the dish of the day.

If you think I am being funny I am not. I am deadly serious.

The Department of Environment has said they believe the issue of the green iguanas is one that should be a national priority.

We should all believe it and take action.

Continually ignoring this problem is insane.

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  1. Ricky Powel says

    They say the iguanas are a menace, kill them… Perhaps thousands of years ago there was another “lizard” menace and the people said “kill them”. Today we ask “Was it an ice age or a meteorite that led to dinosaur extinction”? Perhaps the iguana’s distant cousin went the same way the experts tell us we must send the iguana.

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