(CNS): The next battle in the Department of Environment’s war on the invading green iguana will begin in May with a reduced bounty on their reptilian heads because of the significant numbers, officials have revealed. Efforts will begin to reduce the number of iguanas on Grand Cayman, which could be as much as one million, and curtail the newly spreading problem on Cayman Brac via a four-pronged attack. Fred Burton, who heads up the DoE’s Invasive Species Unit, has unveiled a plan for registered cullers and a raffle on Grand Cayman. On the Brac there will be a short sharp attack followed by biosecurity control for the Sister Islands.
The green iguana has become a massive threat to Cayman’s bio-diversity and conservation but finding an affordable and sustainable solution to cull it has proved challenging, given the DoE’s limited resources.
Burton told the National Conservation Council at its meeting Wednesday that an iguana manager is being recruited to start next month on a short-term contract to control a remote four-month project to tackle the pest during its breeding season. Registered cullers will earn $2 per dead green iguana and an open raffle with cash prizes will be introduced to encourage the entire community to get involved in the extermination programme.
Burton warned that the plan may need to be adapted in real-time but the aim is to support an emerging green iguana control industry and a much less gruesome counting element.
He explained that businesses and individuals with the relevant trade and business licences and lawful air-rifle licences will be eligible for culling contracts with the DoE, but the burden of legal compliance and safety as well as the proper disposal will be on the contractors. Burton said the cut in the bounty from $5 in last year’s pilot study may cause some grumbling but it was a much more realistic and sustainable figure. Burton said the “anchor” price needed to be low so it could be increased as the numbers fall and the culling becomes more challenging.
Counting iguanas for payment and recording for research purposes will be done remotely via photographic evidence using a verification system that will also be used for people wanting to take part in the raffles.
“An attempt to involve the community at large with the raffle has the potential to scale up culling operations considerably,” Burton told the NCC, as he said the culling business community alone would not reach the scale needed to make a significant impact on the population growth trajectory.
“Extensive community involvement could, if successful, reach the necessary scale,” he said, explaining that anyone living in the Cayman Islands would be able to register remotely and get a raffle ticket for every ten iguanas they cull based on valid photographic evidence and coding with indelible ‘sharpies’ on the dead iguanas.
“The more iguanas an individual culls, the more tickets they will receive,” he said. “At two-weekly intervals or monthly intervals, a ticket number will be randomly drawn …and the winner will receive the prize money.”
The iguanas will need to be counted for research purposes, so every contractor and every registered raffle participant will receive a unique short identity code. They will then clearly write the code on the iguana’s back, along with the accumulative number, then photograph the reptiles side by side and send the pictures into the DoE with dates. The photos will be used as evidence for payment or raffle tickets. Once marked, the iguanas cannot be claimed again.
The iguana manager will be tasked with counting the dead iguanas and creating the database, as well as checking duplication of claims in the images and helping participants keep track of their serial and cull numbers.
On Cayman Brac, where the greens are undergoing rapid growth in the Spot Bay area, Burton is proposing an intensive operation in late March using night searches with spotlights to locate and shoot the iguanas. Before this starts, the DoE will survey the numbers to assess the distribution on the Brac.
“This cull will be intended to bring the Spot Bay green iguana population down to a minimal level and also to knock down any other centres of population growth that are found,” Burton said.
After that, ongoing control and biosecurity measures will be essential to keep the numbers down. Burton said the invasive species policy and procedures under consideration by the NCC should lead to enforceable restrictions on owning, breeding and transporting green iguanas in the Cayman Islands.