New ideas needed to keep green iguanas in check

After a brief Christmas break, culling operations resumed on 24 January with a limited army of around 80 regular cullers and a funding commitment to keep the project going until the end of next year. According to a report in this months Flicker, the DoE’s bimonthly magazine edited by Jane Haakonsson, to date the project has cost CI$7.9 million, which resulted in the culling of 1,349,919 iguanas since it started.

The number of green iguanas culled dropped dramatically in 2021, with just 87,361 killed compared to the culling rates of over 150,000 iguanas per month in the first few months of the program. The numbers decreased exponentially in parallel with the declining population to an average of around 7,000 per month. Despite the increase in the bounty on each iguana from CI$5 to CI$7, cullers are losing interest as the animals get harder to find, something that the DoE’s iguana expert, Fred Burton, predicted when the cull was first rolled out.

The DoE said the bounty style approach has likely reached the limit of its effectiveness, which was supported by last year’s annual Green Iguana Survey.

When the cull began there were estimated to be around 1.32 million green iguanas on Grand Cayman. After 1.12 million iguanas were killed in the first 14 months of the project, by August 2020, the population had been cut to just 25,000. The population has bounced back a little, increasing in the August 2021 annual iguana survey to 87,000, not just because of the decline in cullers or the COVID lockdowns but because of an increasingly alert iguana population.

“The remarkable capacity of green iguanas to reproduce… when adequate controls are not in place, is clearly revealed” in the data for that survey, the DoE explained, adding that new hatchlings accounted for the majority of culled iguanas arriving at the station from August through to December last year.

The DoE said it is committed to ensuring that “the successes, effort and money invested in
date is not in vain”, and while eradication remains virtually impossible, a long-term answer now needs to be considered to prevent the numbers from reaching past levels, which posed a serious threat to the islands’ unique natural habitats.

The greens are by no means the only invasive species in the Cayman Islands. In the latest edition of Flicker, the department revealed details of the bio-security work now going on as a result of a Darwin Grant. With CI$535,000 in the bag until 2024, the DoE, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DoA), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the University of Aberdeen researchers, will be establishing solid bio-security protocols and invasive species management.

Dealing with feral cats, chickens and rats and more obscure creatures, such as lobate lake scalemealybug and fruit-fly, on the Sister Islands will be a primary part of the project.

For more details on controlling invasive species as well as other great features on hunting for orchids and the threat to the endangered pygmy blue butterfly from habitat loss see the latest edition of Flicker below. Back copies can be found here.

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