Can anything turn the tide on the iguana invasion?
In a move that may leave reptile lovers horrified, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging all homeowners to kill any green iguana they find on their property.
The directive to kill these prehistoric-looking reptiles “whenever possible” stems from the damage these invasive species can cause to sidewalks, seawalls and landscape plants, according to the agency. They can also transmit salmonella to humans, like most reptiles, and are threatening natural wildlife.
In the Keys, the iguanas are known to have been gobbling up host plants for some of the state’s disappearing butterflies and damaging seawalls.
More than 4,000 green iguanas have been spotted in Florida since the Center for Invasive Species at the University of Georgia started tracking sightings in 2005. Most of the sightings have been in South Florida.
You don’t need a permit to kill them on your own property, but they are protected by Florida’s anti-cruelty law, so the execution must be considered humane. The iguanas can also be killed on 22 public lands in South Florida without a permit or hunting license year-round, except by traps or firearms.
It’s also illegal to use poison on iguanas or any other reptile in Florida, the Fish and Wildlife said, as well as releasing or relocating captured iguanas.
The announcement brought a flurry of questions and criticism from animal advocate organizations, inclduing PETA, who questioned the state agency’s encouragement and their lack of instruction on how to “humanely” kill an iguana.
“Randomly killing these wonderful animals won’t curb their population in any significant way, whereas banning their import, possession, sale, exhibition, and breeding would actually reduce the numbers,” PETA’s statement reads. “Untrained members of the public, including children, are ill-equipped to slaughter iguanas in a manner that destroys their brains and causes instant death, meaning that many of these sensitive animals will suffer before dying.”
On July 25— three weeks after the initial announcement — the Fish and Wildlife released a new statement clarifying their stance.
“Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up. This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘wild west.’” said agency Commissioner Rodney Barreto. “If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living.”
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also included a link to a list of professional trappers, but did not clarify what a “humane” killing was.
Homeowners seeking alternative ways of getting iguanas off their property can refer to the agency’s technical assistance PowerPoint for suggestions on how to make their homes less appealing to iguanas.
It’s no surprise South Florida would be a target for the creatures extermination. We’re no strangers to these pesky reptiles, in fact, they’re almost considered a South Florida staple — like our palm trees and sunshine — despite their invasive status.
They can be found everywhere from basking along canals, inside toilets and are also one of the most popular reptile pets in America, which experts say is how they ended up overrunning Florida. Not only do they come in various colors, they can also grow to over five feet in length.
Originally found in Central America, some eastern Caribbean islands and the tropical areas of South America, they were first reported in Florida during the 1960s and have since adapted well to South Florida’s tropical climate.