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

By on March 23, 2018 with 33 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.”

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

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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:


      • Lucas says:

        Sterilization for wildlife has been and is still done all the time when dealing with invasive wildlife issues like this. These solutions have been implemented by ecologists using non toxic contaminants that do not harm the resulting ecosystems in which these animals live in. It is very feasible.

    • 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.

      • Barrie says:

        Totally illegal to freeze an Animal to death.It could cost you a year in prison…Some type of TNR would be the most humane.What else could be considered “Invasive”? ” German” Shepherds?” “French” Poodles?” ” English” Bulldogs”?Hell unless your Black or Native American..we’re all “Invasive”..

    • Ricky says:

      My father is from Venezuela. These are native over there. When he was a young boy they used to catch them cut them open to see if they were female and we’re carrying eggs if they were female they would take about three quarters of the eggs out and so I’m back up and release them if they were males they would eat them. This is when he was 8 years old they can be caught and operated on

      • Ricky says:

        And sew them I apologize autocorrect. They would eat the eggs he loved them she still has memories of it

    • Jim says:

      No there doesn’t “have to be” a birth control pill or dart that we can reliably apply to tens of thousands of iguanas. What is needed is a humane method to kill iguanas, that is safe for user, neighbors, and other wildlife. Captive bolt is quick, more certain than most methods, and it doesn’t create toxic carcasses that poison carrion eaters. Iguanas shot with lead often escape, their injuriy killing them later… sometimes much later, if at all. With a lead pellet in their bodies, alive they are a lethally toxic bait for predators, dead a toxic bait for scavengers. Eagles are both. So are dogs left in a fenced yard. And ingested lead, though a lethal neuro-toxin, works very slowly. So raptors, vultures and other wildlife that eat dead or injured iguanas die of neurological effects that can lead to slow starvation.

    • chercher says:

      if any ‘birth control’ or sterilization method that could be added to food/ bait woul be the best route so do not have to catch them & harm or kill them, I read that they have a very lon glife span even in the wild average 15 years, so not like they are going away on thier own

  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.

    • Sheryl Vincent says:

      There are laws against these abusive and inhumane acts. Punishable by fines and imprisonment. So, now the Florida Fish and Wildlife people are asking residents and paid personnel to Willingly Brake Florida Laws ? Excuse me? There is something very wrong here. This is the 2nd article I’ve read on this topic.

  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.

  14. Phil says:

    I inherited a green Iguana as a pet, and these animals are very intelligent. They show a wide range of emotions from happiness to sadness, frustration to annoyance or anger– They can be excited or bored.

    They learn their name and can be trained. In fact after talking to other Iguana pet owners, I’ve come to learn they all have different personalities. I would say these animals are on par with cats and dogs in intelligence and definately possess strong emotional feelings.

    When I think about these people killing these Iguanas, its just like thinking about someone smashing a kitten in the head.

  15. Realist says:

    Ignorance is bliss. While cruelty is bad this is an aggressive invasive species that is adapting to our environment. Eating and living in dumpsters by the dozens. Defacating like dogs and now reports are that they are becoming carnivores not just herbivores as they adapt. Think rats! And rats , well we crush there necks in traps and poison them. The truth is they are now a far bigger problem then rats. And yes sterilization would be an amazing solution if there is one but I don’t think we have that science yet. In the mean time removal by any means necessary is a reality.

    • Jason says:

      The world is overpopulated as is and we are running out of resources for everybody. Yet we all continue to have children and not care. How are humans not an invasive species? Only sentient beings that we deem valuable should be protected? I know iguanas are an invasive species but humans are even more so and it is illegal to harm humans so disagree with your supposed “realist” logic.

    • Jenny says:

      Just how the other person said humans are invasive too, but there is another animal that people protect like crazy yet the inguana as a similar intelligence. It’s the cat. Cats cause way more destruction than any other invasive species in Florida but you don’t see anyone killing or hurting them because of it. I thinks it’s super unfair to keep killing and shooting Inguanas when they are super smart and have such a wide range of emotions. I’m sure if more money were put into this they would find a good sterilization option very quickly.

  16. Mel says:

    Trap, dispatch, eat. Simple solution. I’m not for bashing their heads in or needlessly torturing, but a sharp knife will do the trick without too much pain. Since they are invasive and tasty, put them use. You cannot expect a trap/neuter approach to work in iguana populations. They simply reproduce too quickly.

    I know there are those that will find this offensive, that is not my intent. I care about the well-being of these and all animals. But an animal that has no natural predators and reproduces this quickly, will either have to be dealt with, eaten, or simply accepted and left alone.

    If the approach is to hunt them, it should be a clean kill with minimal or no wasted meat.
    Only kill that which you intend to eat, and use every useful part of what you kill.

  17. Yanay says:

    Please let’s do something about this 😢. There has to be another way. Let’s take action.

  18. Oliver says:

    I agree why do people kill iguanas they could just catch them and move them somwer difint.

  19. cabra says:

    Anyone ever think about catch and ship back to Mexico? Can’t be that expensive. One large ferry twice a month. Addios amigos!

  20. saur says:

    This blob post written in 2018 has never been updated with Florida Wildlife Commission rules adopted April 29, 2021:
    Green iguanas are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species due to their impacts to native wildlife. Like all nonnative reptile species, green iguanas are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law and can be humanely killed on private property with landowner permission. This species can be captured and humanely killed year-round and without a permit or hunting license on 25 public lands in south Florida.

    Live Iguanas are no longer available as pets. Kate MacFall, Florida State Director for the Humane Society of the U.S., is for the state changes and against the invasive reptile industry. https://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/environment/2021-04-29/floridas-new-invasive-reptile-rules-have-breeders-leaving-and-activists-rejoicing

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