Florida’s iguana overpopulation needs a humane solution that doesn’t include bashing in their heads

By on March 23, 2018 with 16 Comments

Wildlife control actions go wrong when they lack justifiable objectives, fail to rely on a science-based approach, and fail the test of humaneness. We’ve seen a brutal example of this playing out in South Florida for the last few weeks, courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which has hired contractors from the University of Florida to go around trapping iguanas and killing them with bolt guns or by smashing in their heads. It’s emblematic of the shabby approach that Florida wildlife officials have demonstrated time and time again when it comes to the problem of invasive species in their state, and they need to adopt a new paradigm, one that’s scientific, practical, and humane.

Florida faces a serious invasive amphibian and reptile challenge, caused primarily by the pet trade. More than 500 non-native fish and wildlife species have been observed in the state, and most of these got into Florida habitats through escape or unauthorized release from pet owners. As a result, there are Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Nile monitor lizards in Cape Coral, and Cuban treefrogs in more than 36 Florida counties.

It’s the green iguana that is being targeted by the hired guns. This is one of three members of the iguana family established in mainland South Florida (the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana and the black spiny-tailed iguana are the others). Green iguanas have been in South Florida since the 1960s, likely rafting in from native home ranges as a result of hurricanes and other natural events. In the 1980s, the green iguana was top of the charts for the pet reptile trade, and as a result its population rocketed. Then, predictably and inevitably, pet owners began releasing iguanas into the wild when they got too large, too aggressive, or too sick. These former pets, along with escapees and refugees from exotic animal shipments, expanded their hold on areas around southern Florida’s bays, canals, ponds, impoundments, and drainage ditches.

Iguanas are long-lived and fertile, and in the absence of predators and competitors for food, they are not going away anytime soon. In fact, they may expand northward into the state. But trying to reduce their populations without addressing the root causes of iguana conflicts and population expansion will only result in a continuous cycle of killing. No invasive reptile species has ever been eradicated through such management efforts.

What Florida urgently needs is a ban on the purchase, sale, and possession of potentially invasive species in the state, like iguanas, but as of now the state still allows the sale of green iguanas and does not require a permit to possess green iguanas as personal pets, including captured iguanas.

Killing iguanas by banging them against a truck or boat is neither humane nor acceptable. What’s more, Florida is making things worse by classifying the iguana as a pest or a nuisance. This encourages members of the public to start their own killing campaigns, often using brutal methods. Already, at our South Florida Wildlife Center, we have seen green iguana patients shot with crossbows, pellet guns, and hog-tied with their limbs cut off.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission needs to adopt a comprehensive and humane program for managing conflicts with iguanas, one that takes into account the biology, habits, and ecology of these species. The best programs are those that combine reproduction inhibition methods, including egg removal with habitat modification and other exclusionary techniques, and public education. Such an approach is not only more humane than killing or depopulation programs, but more efficient and cost- effective in the long-term. What Florida is doing now brings to mind the wry definition of insanity you’ll see in an internet meme now and then: “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Categories
Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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16 Comments

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  1. Maggie gibbs says:

    Be the voice for those that have no voice!

  2. Leslie C.V.T says:

    What about implementing a sterilization program. I am not suggesting catching and spaying or neutering them. There has to be an oral or injectable agent that can be given after sedated with a dart gun or blow gun. There was a chemical used in small animal but I am not sure how it would effect reptiles. I just would like to see a humane solution that does not involve euthanasia or vigilanty killings.

    • Leslie Durwright says:

      So what chemicals sedate/sterilize green iguanas? How much of those chemical do the biologist use? How accurate are the dart guns you propose to use? What is a dart (a needle with sedating chemical) misses and goes into a nearby canal?
      So you’re suggesting introducing medication into the animals that live near waterways where sewage treatment have a hard time removing chemicals:

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-half-of-drugs-removed-by-sewage-treatment/

    • LaVeeda krumm says:

      South FL. also has another problem, Bofu toads. These toads are very deadly to other animals. They are being killed in terrible ways. I can’t bring myself to kill anything let alone bashing them to death. I guess you can catch them and place live in brown paper bags then into the freezer for 5 days. Gross! I too have wondered about sterilization programs. These toads have killed some dogs in our neighborhood. People are too quick to turn to killing to solve problems. People brought these toads to SWFL. They needed toads to eat some kind of insects in the sugar cane fields. We cause so many problems for ourselves. Stupid creatures.

  3. Kathy Thurow says:

    Brutally killing the iguana, reminds me of China and there’s nothing positive about that.
    I agree with sterilization or any solution without brutality.

  4. Kathy walsh says:

    Really cruel ,horrible world we live in .

  5. Michelle Kaufman says:

    I thought it would be a good idea to require the reptile stores that sell snakes and iguanas to have them microchipped. That way if the owner released them in the Everglades or abused them, they could be traced and prosecuted. I don’t know if this is possible but an idea.

  6. Kriste wilkerson says:

    This is just crazy! How about a sterilization program or Anything else that is humane. Do humans have to be so savage & murder everything? Shame on you!

  7. Melissa J Armstrong says:

    Brutally killing the iguana, reminds me of China and there’s nothing positive about that.
    I agree with sterilization or any solution without brutality!!

  8. Rick says:

    It is Florida.. what do you expect? Civility??

  9. Charlotte Bloomquist says:

    They are like feral cats. Sterilization program.

  10. Leena Kiuru says:

    It is necessary to find another solution to handle overpopulation of iguanas.This is cruel,Unhuman way to deal with it.

  11. Lene says:

    It’s in humane and heartless. They feel pain as well . Implement a plan . Reminds me of China as well. We’re know different.

  12. Lisa Kamins says:

    We need to stop killing everything! We are capable of a humane solution here!

  13. Nan says:

    Who do we write to or call in Florida Wildlife dept. or legislature to protest this or to join in action to stop this practice.

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