Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is clearly having second thoughts about a controversial directive it issued earlier this month that urged Floridians to kill wild green iguanas “whenever possible,” and is now informing residents that the state is not a “wild west”-style shooting range for hunting down the reptile.
In a notice about the invasive species that had been posted to the FWC website, the commission had previously said:
“Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible.”
The statement drew bemusement as well as anger from people across the United States, leaving animal rights advocates fuming about what they saw as a green light to senselessly butcher the lizards.
The Humane Society of the United States blasted the “irresponsible directive,”claiming that the FWC notice was “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.”
The Human Society added:
“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.”
The offending lines have since been removed by the FWC.
Experts say that the lizards—which are native to Central America, the eastern Caribbean islands, and tropical parts of South America—are reproducing at a rapid rate due to the especially warm year. Female iguanas can lay about 80 eggs per year, and the hardy creature measuring around 5 feet can live up to around a decade in the wild.
Green iguanas are considered to be an invasive species due to the damage they can cause to seawalls, sidewalks and landscape plants, which they enjoy burrowing under and leaving dropping on. The iguana could also present a threat to residential and commercial landscape vegetation, as well as an endangered native species of tree snail.
Despite the threat from the lizards, however, Florida’s authorities are now walking back their earlier directive. In a news release issued last Thursday, FWC Commissioner Rodney Bareto acknowledged that the prior directive about killing the iguanas was a bit over-the-top.
The FWC commissioner said:
“Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up. This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘wild west.’ If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living.”
Green iguanas were first reported in Florida in the 1960s along Miami-Dade County’s southeastern coast, and authorities say that many have been brought to Florida as pets or were stow-aways on ships. In hot and humid Florida, the reptile has flourished.
The iguanas are known to reside in burrows, culverts, drainage pipes and debris or rock piles. South Florida’s system of man-made canals have also served as “ideal dispersal corridors to further allow iguanas to colonize new areas,” the commission has said.
Wildlife expert Joseph Wasilewski told the Washington Post:
“In the last five or 10 years, I’ve seen the population literally explode.”
Changing climate conditions across the planet have tipped the balance in favor of invasive species in recent years by removing the natural environmental limits on certain creatures. Warming temperatures and humidity have opened up the ability of foreign flora and fauna to colonize new territories that were previously inclement to species that thrive in hot, moist climes.
According to a recent study, alien species—those who are not endemic or native to a particular environment—have been a primary driver of extinctions affecting both plants and animals across the globe.