Florida’s inhumane solution to its iguana problem is doomed to failure

By on July 10, 2019 with 20 Comments

Florida, in the midst of an explosion in the population of green iguanas, is actively encouraging residents to kill the animals “whenever possible” around their homes or on public lands. This irresponsible directive from the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not accompanied by any guidance on how such killing should be conducted, which all but ensures that the animals will be randomly pursued and persecuted, resulting in massive suffering and cruel deaths.

Even if the animals were humanely captured and killed, there is no science-backed evidence to show that such an approach will effectively reduce the state’s population of iguanas in the long term.

Last year we reported that the commission had hired contractors from the University of Florida to trap and kill iguanas either with bolt guns or by smashing their heads against hard objects. Conscripting Florida residents to kill the animals amplifies that archaic approach and reinforces a troubling message — that animals seen as “pests” or as a nuisance should be summarily killed.

It’s still worse that many Floridians are unlikely to be able to tell the difference between native and nonnative iguanas. Thus, this program of indiscriminate killing will likely adversely impact other lizards and iguanas who are likely to be misidentified and targeted by residents.

From time to time, we’ve found occasion and good reason to cooperate with the commission and to support its decisions. But this isn’t one of those times, not least because, again and again, when it comes to invasive species, Florida has disappointed us. Most conspicuously, it has failed to properly regulate the pet trade in wild and invasive species, which is a primary cause of the rise in populations of invasive amphibian and reptile species throughout the state. Florida is one of the very rare state wildlife agencies that does not recommend lethal control of coyotes for conflict reasons, and encourages humane solutions like education and hazing instead. We urge the commission to extend this progressive and humane attitude to iguanas.

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.

The green iguana, now being targeted, 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. 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.

Climate change isn’t helping the situation either, because warming temperatures have made Florida an ever more hospitable range for these species. Iguanas are long-lived and fertile, and in the absence of predators and competitors for food, they are likely to expand northward into the state.

Here’s the bottom line. Attempting to reduce iguana populations without addressing the root causes of the problem will only result in a continuous cycle of killing, with no end in sight and no genuine relief from conflicts residents are experiencing.

The directive on iguanas is also creating unforeseen public safety problems: according to news reports an iguana hunter armed with a pellet gun shot and injured a man who was cleaning a pool at a residence in Boca Raton this week. A woman who spoke to the local media, said, “Iguanas are everywhere, if neighbors are gonna be like the Wild West and shoot at everything someone’s gonna get killed.”

What Florida needs is scientific, practical and humane solutions to the problem, beginning with a ban on the sale and trade of these animals. 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. Iguanas released into the environment from this situation will continue to establish themselves no matter how many animals are killed.

The FWCC should also adopt a comprehensive and humane program for managing conflicts with iguanas, such as the one that they promote for solving conflicts with coyotes, one that takes into account the biology, habits and ecology of these species. The best conflict and population management programs are those that combine reproduction inhibition methods, including egg removal with habitat modification and public education on how to mitigate and reduce conflicts around the home. This might include installing barriers, removing plants that attract the animals, making nesting sites less suitable, and effective forms of hazing to keep the iguanas out of areas where they are not wanted.

Unless such common-sense methods are implemented, no amount of killing will end Florida’s iguana problem.

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

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20 Comments

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  1. Carolyn Denton says:

    Your suggestions for Humane Management make a lot of sense Kitty. Hope the right people will get involved and help to implement them. It’s horrible that the FWCC can only suggest, kill, kill, kill without giving thought to how the “killings” are to be carried out. Very sad to hear of that approach. The Iguanas should not suffer. There is enough of that in the world. Let’s not add to it.

  2. Sally Palmer says:

    Thank you for this articulate argument against creating an outlook that it’s ok for people to destroy animal populations by any convenient means. It sets a horrifying precedent of blind destruction of other beings without a full understanding of their links to us and our planet. I learned so much from this blog that anyone dealing with iguanas should be aware of. The destruction of other beings should be well-thought out to deal with the conflict of space and property as constructively as possible to avoid sinking into savagery that will tear its ugly head in other ways if condoned.

  3. Karen Marcum says:

    Let nature take its course. There is plenty of room for everyone. Are we going to start humanely bashing in humans heads in order to get rid of their nuisance? I think not. Let them be, learn to live with them. Bashing in their heads, encouraging people to kill them. How awful. I hope whomever suggested them has that on their conscious.

    • Jon Moore says:

      “Let Nature take its course” is invalid if we have altered nature to such an extent that it doesn’t function the ways it used to. Iguanas took over Birch State Park in the 2000s and were destroying endangered native plants at that park. Let the over-abundant introduced species destroy the native plants (and animals, iguanas eat bird eggs and hatchlings too) we are trying to protect is not a viable solution. Plus iguana burrowing was undermining the seawalls on the intracoastal side of the park and putting some of the park infrastructure at risk. Do you also say “Let Nature take its course” about the pythons that are decimating the mammal and bird populations in the Everglades? Or the lionfish gobbling up all the young reef fishes offshore? We need better ways to control and humanely eliminate invasives that are impacting our ecosystems.

      • Dave says:

        Well said Jon,
        Most people have not seen first hand the destructive tendencies these animals possess!
        As far as being able to identify native from non-native Iguanas in Florida holds no water, there are no native Iguanas in Florida! They must be thinking about the Islands in the Caribbean.

      • Shanfl says:

        Thank you!

  4. Michelle Birnbaum says:

    Thank you! I live in Key West and have documentation of cruelty. I have also been subjected to online harrasment because I support humane population control. I have contacted the city about the danger of people shooting at arboreal lizards in a densely populated area. I have received no response.

  5. Jim Harris says:

    Come on, “somebody is going to get killed! By a pellet gun? and if you have 10 20 30 of 40 on your property killing may not end the Florida problem but it sure will cut down on the damn varmints on my property. So, for now, yeah, It is what it is – the only luck would be a really good deep freeze. Other than that if they come on my property I going to pop them with a pellet gun and dare them to come back.

    History has shown humans have killed some animals to near extinction, buffalo for one, that was a big mistake and fail as far as humans go but it does show killing a species of animal can alter a population.

  6. Emilie Yoda says:

    After reading so many disappointing, ignorant articles on this issue, I am at least slightly relieved to have found this one. Not only is this an issue for the poor iguanas which are now going to be recklessly cruelly killed by inexperienced hunters, but as you said, this can even be a danger for us humans well. No good will come out of this. We have now put the idea in people’s minds to go kill iguanas and now they will be painfully killed, possibly even for sport. I agree that even a large amount of people inflicting painful deaths on these poor innocent animals, might not make even a slightly significant dent in the population of green iguanas and hundreds of iguanas will have suffered for absolutely no reason! Especially since a lot of unknowledgeable people will be killing the wrong iguanas as well. Once again I am disappointed to call myself a human. The human species continues to disappoint me every day with heartless, ignorant decisions. Thank you for allowing one reasonable article on this subject to exist. I truly hope you gather people with the same beliefs to join you and fight this horrible situation.

  7. Dan says:

    Just watched a neighbor shoot into his neighbor’s yard to kill 3 of them. The idiot couldn’t even hit them, so they fell into the water and thrashed around for a few minutes before passing. I yelled over and asked if he was afraid of them, only to be met by the typical Florida trash language. The guy owns one of the fishing charter fleets here at Hillsboro Inlet. I will stop using their fishing charter and will tell my friends to do the same, after years of patronizing the business.

    Florida is full of idiots. Which one in their right mind thought that telling Florida people to start shooting animals in their back yard would be a good idea? Sadly, we’ll soon be reading about someone getting shot by someone else while trying to kill iguanas. You heard it here first…

  8. Mark Sabatoni says:

    Let’s get something straight!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_iguana

    The green iguana (Iguana iguana), also known as the American iguana, is a large, arboreal, mostly herbivorous species of lizard of the genus Iguana. Usually, this animal is simply called the iguana. The green iguana ranges over a large geographic area; it is native from southern Brazil and Paraguay as far north as Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and have been introduced from South America to Puerto Rico and are very common throughout the island, where they are colloquially known as gallina de palo (“bamboo chicken” or “chicken of the trees”) and considered an invasive species; in the United States, feral populations also exist in South Florida (including the Florida Keys), Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

    https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/reptiles/green-iguana/

    Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) are an invasive species in Florida and are not native to our state. They can cause considerable damage to infrastructure, including seawalls and sidewalks. This species is not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law. Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to humanely kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in south Florida.

    Green iguanas are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty laws and can be humanely killed on private property year-round with landowner permission. The FWC encourages removal of green iguanas from private properties by landowners. Members of the public may also remove and kill iguanas from 22 FWC managed public lands without a license or permit under Executive Order 17-11. Captured iguanas cannot be relocated and released at other locations in Florida. Homeowners that trap iguanas on their property may be able to obtain euthanasia services from local exotic veterinarians, humane societies or animal control offices depending on the location and availability of services. For more information, view the FWC’s PowerPoint on Iguana Technical Assistance for Homeowners.

    What Iguana species are native to Florida? None that I know of.
    Yes bashing a Iguana over the head may seem cruel to you but remember populations of other nations actual use Iguana’s like we see chickens.

    The problem in Florida was caused mostly by the residents of Florida! Invasive species can threaten true natural plant and animal life to the point of extinction.
    This has to stop and the problem is NOT the Iguanas but we, the humans make our own problems like this and we must pay to rectify the issues.

    And do you really believe that Florida is going to end up like the “Wild West” due to 1 fool with a pellet gun? Also remember the fake Hollywood version of the Wild West is just that FAKE!

    So it seems as if the real issue are the people of Florida. So start licensing ALL exotic pets, make training mandatory and paid for by those seeking exotic pets.

    My last but most important question is:

    What viable alternatives did you propose or intend to propose to not only control the feral Iguana population but also to end the continuing cycle?

    This is from a father who gave 2 Iguana’s to my son and we had with us for about 14 years.

  9. Ramona says:

    I cannot understand why, if iguanas have now taken over South Florida, that sales of these reptiles are still allowed. What???? If you are trying to reduce or even eradicate the population, why on earth would you not ban their sale. This would seem to also apply to other exotic, non-native species that are sold to people, and then end up in our ecosystem when uncaring, unscrupulous owners release these animals once they have determined them to be a nuisance. It seems that more restrictions need to be placed on the exotic pet trade, and certain animals should just not be available for sale, period.

  10. bob says:

    The original town solution here for cat overpopulation was of turning the police duties into capturing and having the cats destroyed, as well as creating an ordinance making it illegal to feed ANY animals. Of course the destruction of the cats was met with disapproval. Then the cat population was finally calmed here with a catch, neuter, and release program, in which the cat population decreased substantially. (Made the vets rich of course)
    I wonder if there is a neutering drug available for the iguanas that could be applied cost effectively. I guess I’m one of the old crazies that believes in the “thou shall not kill” teachings, so always looking for a humane way.

  11. Connie says:

    I think fruit “bait”stations sprinkled with some powdered medication that makes their eggs shells too thin to hatch or some other type of”birth control” would be a start to a solution by stopping new hatchlings. Rather than inhumanely killing individuals (which won’t work anyways). That’s like getting rid of cockroaches by killing one at a time, fighting a losing battle.

  12. Lori says:

    I go to Miami twice a year for work and pleasure. I photograph iguanas, amongst other non-native and so-called “pest” species. I’ve yet to see any damage caused by these animals other than some poop. But be that as it may, the biggest problem I notice is people feeding these animals.

    There needs to be a campaign to stop people feeding wildlife, in addition to banning the sale of these animals as pets. Killing wildlife, pest or no pests, is usually, not only not humane and compassionate, but almost never works in the long run.

    Why do people automatically turn to killing as solutions to problems? Let’s get smart and evolve ourselves as a species. And btw, Miami’s shoreline is littered with trash and plastic as well as their waterways and wildlands. That seems like a much larger problem to the environment to me.

  13. Lori says:

    I visit Miami several times a year and I love photographing the iguanas. In my opinion, the trash is a much larger problem in Florida than the iguanas.

    I’m writing an article about the iguanas. Can someone please tell me (HSUS?) what iguanas are native as mentioned in this piece? I can’t find any info about that.

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