More than a quarter-million invasive green iguanas have been removed from the environment in seven weeks of culling.
The Department of Environment told Cayman 27 registered cullers are well on their way toward an ambitious goal of 1.4 million iguanas by the end of 2019.
After a big first week where almost 54,000 invasive green iguanas were delivered to the counting station at the George Town landfill, the numbers have leveled out.
From the beginning, the DOE anticipated numbers to taper off. Cullers are now averaging around 36,000 iguanas per week after 41 counting days.
That’s a pretty good start, but to meet the DOE’s ambitious goal of 1.4 million iguanas by the end of 2019, cullers will need to bring in more than 21,000 iguanas per week for the next 54 weeks.
As diminishing returns kick in, it won’t be easy, but just getting to the kickoff of the 2018/2019 cull had its own challenges.
The invasive green iguana had become ubiquitous on Grand Cayman years before this year’s large scale cull.
In 2016 the population was estimated at 800,000, and growing exponentially. By 2018 the DOE had projected the population at around 1.6 million.
“We’re able now to say that the $365,000 that has been budgeted this year will not be enough to turn the population growth down,” said DOE Terrestrial Resources Unit Manager Fred Burton told Cayman 27 in August 2016.
Two trial culls in 2016 netted more than 18,000 iguanas. While it did not stop the population growth, the DOE said it took away some valuable lessons for the future.
In 20-17, the DOE took a different strategy to iguana control.
“It’s a ticket per iguana, if you kill an iguana and send a picture in to our cull manager, you get a raffle ticket,” said Mr. Burton in May of 2017 as that year’s cull readied for launch.
Ultimately, this ‘outside the box’ approach to green iguana control fizzled, becoming the butt of jokes, and drawing the ire of Premier Alden McLaughlin, who in August 2017 pledged to work towards the eradication of the invasive pest.
“Whatever form this programme takes, it will not be like the last carried out by DOE which included some form of lottery,” said Mr. McLaughlin during his strategic policy statement address.
Invigorated by a commitment of $7.3 million in supplemental funding, the 2018/2019 cull, now with a total budget of $9.5 million, set a goal of 1.4 million iguanas, paying registered iguana cullers up to five dollars per carcass.
“If we don’t kill a certain number of iguanas over the next 12 months, the project cannot be successful,” said Mr. Burton in September 2018.
More than 13,000 iguanas were delivered to the counting station on the cull’s first day, doubling expectations.
Registered cullers like Chet Rivers told Cayman 27 reasons to participate go beyond the economic incentives.
“This is what it is really about, you have all this produce that is going to waste because we are not getting no mangoes, no fruit, no veggies, all of that stuff because of the same creatures,” said Mr. Rivers in October 2018.
More than 340 companies, individuals, and teams registered for the cull, but roughly one third of them were no-shows by mid-November.
The DOE told Cayman 27 the steering committee is looking at a likely second round of registration in January.