Welcome Visitor or Trespasser? The Green Iguana in Florida

By Erin Thompson

The green iguana, found in South Florida, where I live, is considered to be an invasive species.  Despite the rather benign behavior of these docile creatures, local citizens view them as pests.  Iguana hunting, especially in South Florida, is legal.  Homeowners possess the right to “kill-on-sight” if they believe that an iguana is becoming a nuisance.

Green_Iguana_at_Ponce_Inlet_Marine_Science_Center._-_Flickr_-_Andrea_Westmoreland
Picture by Andrea Westmoreland (Wikimedia Commons)

The term “invasive” holds a negative connotation when used to describe its recipient.  Environmentalists apply it to any species that is not indigenous to the land in which resides.  In this case, it characterizes the green iguanas, imported to South Florida—most likely as pets from South and Central America—where they were released into the wild (a first-degree misdemeanor, with an additional civil penalty of $500) and began to reside along Florida’s canals and lakes.  The population of the green iguana also increased after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, possibly from being washed onto shore.

Green iguanas did not solicit to become someone’s pets.  Neither did they ask to be released into the wild because their irresponsible pet owner did not have the means or the patience to care for them any longer.  And yet, they are the ones to be killed on sight for merely existing.  Florida statutes s.828.12 declares:

A person who intentionally commits an act to any animal . . . which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, commits aggravated animal cruelty, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s.775.082 or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

By “animal,” the law refers to a cat or a dog, not an iguana.

Apparently, in South Florida, a gunshot to the head is not defined as a cruel death.  However, a repeated shot to the head or any other section of the body is considered to be cruel.  From what I have seen in the city of Coral Springs, if iguanas begin to dig around any local water pumps, possibly contaminating the water supply, then the city can hire a trapper (a person with a pellet gun and a plastic magnetic sign stuck to the side of their car) to eliminate the animal causing the damage.  Now a logical mind might think, “Hey, there must be a more humane way to deal with these reptiles.  Couldn’t they possibly be relocated to an area where water pumps and asphalt embankments are scarce?”  My answer to that person would be “no.”  It is unlawful in South Florida to relocate wildlife.

Let us examine the logic of our legislators:

  • Animals are not to be intentionally harmed or killed by excessive repeated infliction that would cause unnecessary pain or suffering.
  • Iguanas do not fall under the category of animal in this instance because they are an invasive species, so they cannot be both animals and an invasive species.
  • Since they are not animals, iguanas are not protected under statute s.828.12.
  • Being shot to death by a pellet gun is therefore not a cruel act that causes pain or suffering.

In summation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not protect green iguanas when the city councilmen decide that the water pumps are more important than the lives of these docile reptiles.  In addition to the city eliminating the green iguana, Florida residents are permitted to use a pellet rifle to destroy these animals if they are intruding on the resident’s property.  Why a human would shoot an animal as passive and solitary as the iguana is beyond my comprehension.  Like all animals, the green iguana is deserving of a life.  Why not let nature take its course?  At some point, a cold front or two will visit Florida.  During that time, the green iguana can become comatose and unfortunately remain in that state permanently.  The upside is that the iguana is not shot in the head with a pellet gun or bow.  Also, a concerned homeowner can iguana proof his or her yard.  Local hardware stores sell metal sheets that can be fastened to the bottom of a tree to prohibit the iguanas from climbing its trunk.  Another idea is to purchase metal mesh to erect around any bushes with flowers where the iguana might want to break for a snack.  And if you are not an accomplished handyman, then iguana repellent might be more effective for your needs.  The repellent will not harm the iguana but will prevent him from visiting your shrubbery.

It is not uncommon for these mini-dinosaurs to “mosey on over” to a blooming hibiscus bush and partake of its lush pink petals, nor is it uncommon to find one sunbathing in the backyard next to your favorite landscaped garden.  They truly are not a bother.  If you get close to one, he will run as fast as he can and dive into the nearest canal or simply speed off into a nearby tree.

I live in Coral Springs, Florida.  There is a canal in my backyard, and families of green iguanas reside nearby.  I observe them from my kitchen window on warm, sunny afternoons.  From my personal observations, I have noted that the iguanas congregate near the canal when the temperature is just right.  These reptiles enjoy the sun in silence.  Their eyes are only partly opened.  It is as if they are in a daydream of warmth.  Not a care in the world until an outsider approaches.  In some cases, it may be an enthusiastic child charging toward this fantastical relic.  Other times, it is man’s best friend.  It must be noted that I am the proud mother to both of the aforementioned mammals.  And sometimes, during my iguana surveillance, my dog companion becomes overly curious and marches over to investigate one of these unassuming dinosaurs.  My initial reaction is to stop the dog by shouting out his name in a callous tone so he will cease interrogating what he believes to be an intruder.  As it turns out, there is no need for such commotion.  The green iguana, without any aggression or hostility, simply runs toward the water and jumps into safety.  I must testify to the fact that the iguana revealed no hostility or anger.  The animal became uncomfortable and perhaps frightened by the inquisitive canine and therefore left the premises.

Sadly, it is not that easy for iguanas to evade humans who would rather practice violence than compassion.  The Humane Party calls on lawmakers in South Florida and throughout the United States to treat all animals—native and non-native—with the utmost respect for their individual lives.  No species deserves to be treated as invasive.

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