Florida island takes up arms against iguana invasion


MIAMI (eTN) – Florida’s idyllic Gasparilla island has taken up arms against aggressive foreign intruders, but the Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas are putting up a tough fight, devouring landscaped gardens, munching on electrical cables and gobbling up turtle eggs.

“It’s an invasion and they’re mean as hell,” says local resident John Bourgoin. “They have big spikes on their tails and they even bite dogs. I’ve seen it done, dog’s bitten on the muzzle.”

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Outnumbered 10 to one by the iguanas, a growing number of the island’s 1,200 permanent residents have decided to wage a full-on war against the pesky critters.

A quiet hideaway off southwestern Florida, Gasparilla is renowned for the tarpon fishing in the Gulf of Mexico whose warm waters lap its shores, and is popular with the well-heeled crowd.

But the island is on a war footing. Residents have armed themselves with pellet guns and don’t hesitate to use them against the cold-blooded reptiles.

In addition, they have hired an expert to decimate the scaly foes, also known as black iguanas.

Trapper George Cera has killed about 4,000 iguanas on Gasparilla so far, but he faces an uphill battle.

Unlike their more docile green cousins, which are often kept as pets, the black iguanas are aggressive and carnivorous.

Common in parts of Mexico, the prehistoric-looking creatures are not native to Florida and have no natural predators on the island. Females can lay up to 50 eggs a year.

The problem goes far beyond the damage the lizards inflict on the exotic plants that grace the gardens of the upscale community of Boca Grande, the small island’s main town.

They like to dine on nesting birds, turtle eggs, and even chew through electrical cables. They also carry salmonella, and have been known to scare residents who found them floating in their toilets.

In addition, the iguanas like to burrow in the sand, leading to fears the tunnels could cause dunes to collapse and deprive the island of crucial protection from landfalling hurricanes.

“These animals serve no purpose,” says Bourgoin.”

Before they hired Cera, residents had considered a number of other options to get rid of the Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas, who are apparently descended from a trio of pet lizards released on the island the 1970s.

A Miami entrepreneur has expressed interest in buying some 2,000 of the creatures to export them to Central America where some communities consider them a delicacy, but residents doubt the venture could be profitable.

One local had rigged an aquarium to the exhaust of his car to create a sort of iguana gas chamber for the creatures he trapped, but authorities pointed out that kind of euthanasia is illegal in Florida.

Local officials had also suggested trapping and freezing them to put them out of their misery in a humane manner, but eventually gave up the idea.

“The only way is to shoot as many as possible,” says Bourgoin, who advises the local county authorities on the problem.

Bourgoin prides himself on his iguana-hunting skills, and argues that a bullet through the head is the fastest and most painless way to dispatch the unwelcome creatures. “Freezing them alive is simply not kosher.”