It plans to eradicate its 4 million-strong population of green iguanas by slaughtering them and selling the meat in the US, where prices for iguana steaks top USD13 a kilogram.
There are few natural predators in the northeastern Caribbean island territories of Puerto Rico and lizards now outnumber humans there. Iguanas are an introduced species. They can grow up to 1.8 metres long and live for 20 years.
One of the flashpoints is Luis Munoz Marin international airport in San Juan. Invasive iguanas, some of them massive, have halted plane landings by romping on the runway. Puerto Rico spends USD80,000 a year exterminating iguanas at the airport.
Iguanas are to Puerto Rico as cane toads are to Australia – in terms of ecological impact, anyway. Cane toads came to Australia in the 1930s but Puerto Rico didn’t see its first iguana in the wild until the 1970s. Since then, the iguanas have bred wildly, taken over airport runways, burrowed under buildings and destroyed foundations.
Killing iguanas for export is seen as a novel, moneymaking solution. Puerto Rico’s Department of Health has approved a plan to train volunteers to capture iguanas alive and bring them to a processing centre for slaughter and export to the US, the Washington Post has reported.
Demand for iguana meat is high in US states with large populations of Latino and Asian immigrants, used to eating lizards.
Puerto Rico occupies a strange position politically, described as an “unincorporated territory of the United States”. It’s not officially a state and the US doesn’t like to use the word colony. Not that it matters much to the iguanas, unless they are planning a coup.
Written by : Peter Needham