“The green iguana population is immense, it’s absolutely huge,” proclaimed Department of Environment Terrestrial resources manager Fred Burton.
He told Cayman 27 the population continues to explode. At last count, some 800,000 invasive green iguanas were roaming Grand Cayman, but the DOE believes that number, recorded in August 2016, is already out of date. Additionally, the DOE has said it believes the population is capable of doubling every 18 months.
Mr. Burton said the escalating green iguana population not only threatens our environment, but our economy and even our tourism product.
The DOE has stressed the need for population control, but how can that be accomplished humanely?
Last week, a nine second video clip caused quite a stir on social media, fueling debate on what constitutes humane treatment of an invasive species.
While the Department of Agriculture concluded the iguana in the video was already dead, it was confirmed that torturing a green iguana, like any other animal, is in fact, against the law.
One local company told Cayman 27 it follows the principles of the American humane slaughter act when culling iguanas.
Cayman 27’s cameras followed along as one of Spinion Ltd’s expert iguana wranglers showed us his technique.
High atop a home on Hirst Road, a family of invasive green iguanas is preparing to make its final stand.
“On top of the chimney, that’s the one we call the alpha male,” said Nikol Webster of Spinion Ltd., pointing out a large green iguana basking in the sun. “They just destroy everything they come across.”
“The problem is that they’ve taken over. They actually need to be killed, it’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality,” said Maria Yapelli whose company, Spinion Ltd. hunts and processes green iguana meat for human consumption. But in order to process the meat, the iguanas must be taken alive.
“It’s a basic snare, fishing line,” said Mr. Webster of his snare, which he fashioned out of a local rosewood branch.
He said a good snare is key to a humane capture..
“You don’t want to be cruel to no animal,” he said. “It’s still an animal, so it’s best to treat it humanely.”
“It’s not something I ever thought that I would be involved in,” said Ms. Yapelli. “It’s very hard for me, it’s very hard, so that’s why Nikol and I take absolutely the most care to treat them with respect.”
Mr. Webster goes in for the catch, making it look easy. He threads the fishing line around the animal’s head, dragging it from the chimmney. Once the iguana is wrestled to the ground, with care to avoid its tail, which can be used like a whip, and its moutf full of sharp teeth. Once on the ground, Mr. Webster immobilises it with duct tape around its front and hind legs. Duct tape is also placed over the animal’s eyes and a sensor on its head that detects light and movement. These actions serve to subdue the iguana.
“You kind of make them close your eyes, cover the eyes and there you go,” said Mr. Webster.
But catching them all isn’t easy. Mr. Webster climbed onto the roof of the house to snare the rest of the females. He said many looked to be full of eggs. One by one, the family of green iguanas is snared, immobilised, and left to rest in the shade. Later, at the processing facility, the iguanas will be killed humanely with a single strike to the head.
“We use the captive bolt which is usually used on pigs, cows, that sort of thing. It works very well for the iguana, but you have to hit them properly,” said Ms. Yapelli.
Even done humanely, it’s not for the faint of heart, but necessary to keep the population from spiraling further out of control.
“They are dinosaurs, they are wicked strong, incredibly strong,” said Ms. Yapelli.
Meanwhile, the DOE told Cayman 27 humane treatment of the animals and proper carcass disposal will be a priority in this year’s culling efforts.
In last year’s cull, which brought in some 18,000 animals in just three weeks, the DOE complained of several instances of animals being treated inhumanely by participants. This year, the DOE said that sort of behavior will not be tolerated.
“We don’t want rotting iguanas slung into the neighboring yards, we don’t want inhumane treatment of the animals, and we don’t want people breaking the law in the process of doing this,” said Mr. Burton.
The DOE’s culling plan outline for 2017 was approved by the National Conservation Council last Wednesday (22 March), and the department is now working to refine its plan.