Plight of the Iguana
Giant lizards overrun us: A growing population of iguanas is invading South Florida yards, parks and gardens, munching on foliage and sunning in backyards by pools and canals.
Krystle Fernandez, Miami-Herald, 06/19/2004
is getting a bit less florid. Blame it on increasing numbers of flower-eating
Scaly-skinned, plant- and flower-munching iguanas are running rampant through the state, and they are really making themselves at home all over South Florida.
Local iguanas romping through back yards, waterways and canals are either loved or hated by local residents. It depends which ones you ask.
Brought here from Central and South America as pets, the green and brown iguanas -- usually found lounging and sunning themselves by our waterways -- are seen around Broward more frequently as their numbers grow.
''As much as people love this climate, so do they,'' said Barbara Harrod, a Davie wildlife educator and licensed trapper. ``We're just going to have to live with them.''
There are more and more of them to live with.
''There are thousands and thousands of them,'' said Michelle Souza, office manager at Fort Lauderdale Critter Control. ``They are starting to run wild more and more. And we're getting more phone calls from people that have lived here for 30 years and have never seen one before.''
The trapping service stopped responding to iguana calls about two years ago, saying that it takes too much time and money to catch one.
''They swim in people's pools, they poop on people's decks,'' said Casey Gould, an employee at Fort Lauderdale Critter Control.
Florida Trappers, which serves Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, gets more than 30 calls a week from people asking them to come and trap an iguana, said Phillip Jones, the company's owner.
In December, the company received about 20 calls a week.
The licensed trapper continues to make iguana house calls, but only to those who can afford the bill -- at least $250.
''It can take a week or even a month to catch one,'' said Jones. ``... a day if you're really lucky.''
Jones understands his customers' frustrations.
''We are in the trapping business, but at the same time I don't think it's really fair to people who pay money for a problem they didn't really create themselves,'' he said.
Some people did create the problem by releasing their pet iguanas into the wild after bringing them to South Florida, which is not their native habitat.
It is illegal to release an exotic species into the wild, but many people don't know that. Besides, the law is nearly impossible to enforce.
''Some are escaped pets, others may have been released,'' said biologist Ricardo Zambrano, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. ``A majority of the ones out there now are offspring.''
Experts say iguanas have few natural predators in South Florida. That, and the difficulty of catching them, and the large amount of eggs they produce -- about 30 per lizard -- have led to an iguana population explosion here.
Seeking to stem the growth of the iguana population, the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale plans to start a spay and neuter program for the iguanas that people adopt from the center.
''The solution in my opinion is clear,'' said Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Jorge Pino. ``The individuals that purchase these iguanas as pets should be responsible for them, and they should not release them into the wild.''
Some residents see the reptiles as a nuisance, since they eat vegetation and foliage in yards rich with fruits, vegetables and hibiscus flowers.
''They're getting into everything,'' said Sati Baboolal, who lives in Plantation Gardens.
``I had an unusual tomato plant that I planted in the back yard. Before it could become a tree they ate it. There's only stems left now.''
Baboolal's apple, mango and papaya trees are a major draw for the iguanas that she finds in her back yard daily, but she is losing her desire to fight them.
''They were pets. Now they're just pests,'' she said. ``Now I buy my tomatoes from the market. There is just no incentive to try and grow something having them around.''
But some people like the scaly lizards.
''If you don't see them, you miss them,'' said golfer Jorge Brea, 64, who sees them while playing a round at the Miami Shores Golf Course. ``The iguana is one of the nice features of this golf course.''
Brenda Foard, who has lived in the Pembroke Lakes neighborhood in Pembroke Pines for the last 12 years, agreed.
''I think they're neat,'' she said.
Steve Mcilvenny of Pembroke Pines sees them all the time in his backyard, and he doesn't have a problem with them either.
''All I've ever seen is people stopping to look at them,'' he said, adding that the iguanas in his back yard don't take a dip in his pool or eat his plants.
``They don't bother anyone. I guess if they were swimming in my pool I'd have a problem with them too.''
Herald writer Adjoa Adofo contributed to this report.
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