A green iguana in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Image: AP

Earlier this month, Florida’s conservation authority urged homeowners to exterminate invasive green iguanas “whenever possible,” without the need for permits. The accidental shooting of a pool maintenance worker by an iguana hunter has now prompted state officials to clarify that directive, saying Florida is not the “wild west.”

When Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) declared open season on invasive green iguanas several weeks ago, it did so without explaining how iguanas were to be exterminated, aside from a vague comment about the invasive reptiles being protected by anti-cruelty laws. The state is currently dealing with a massive green iguana infestation, with the invasive species causing damage to seawalls, sidewalks, and ornamental gardens.

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On July 25th, the FWC issued a new statement, providing “additional information” on iguana removal.

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“Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up,” said FWC Commissioner Rodney Barreto in the statement. “This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘wild west.’”

So whereas earlier this month the FWC said to remove iguanas “whenever possible,” it’s now saying people need to call professionals in cases where the animals cannot be removed “safely.”

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Though not explicitly mentioned, the revised statement was likely prompted by an incident earlier in the month in which a pool worker was accidentally shot by an unnamed iguana hunter in Boca Raton. Thankfully, the worker was shot by a pellet gun, and his injuries were not severe or life threatening. Homeowner E-Lyn Bryan was checking up on the pool crew when the incident happened.

“I heard him scream on the top of his lungs ‘oww’ and he had blood coming out of his leg,” Bryan told NBC 6 South Florida. “We have iguanas everywhere,” added Bryan, “If neighbors are gonna be like the wild west and shoot at everything, someone’s gonna get killed,” she said. “You need to protect your children. The kids fish back here all the time.”

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In the new statement, the FWC said, “If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living.”

Iguana Busters is a company that provides this very service to residential areas in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Steve Kavashansky, the owner of the company, agrees with the FWC, telling NBC 6 South Florida that his employees wear bright green vests to alert the public to their presence, and that “everybody who works for us are either retired law enforcement or military who are really good marksmen.” No certification process currently exists for iguana trappers, but restrictions exist for the use of high-powered PCP air rifles, according to Newsweek.

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In terms of the ethics involved, Ron Magill, wildlife expert and communications director for Zoo Miami, said shooting an iguana is generally more humane than other methods, “but only if the iguana is restrained such that the shot is carefully placed at the base of the skull to cause instant death, much like a bang stick is used on alligators,” he told Gizmodo. Most people who shoot iguanas do so from a distance, he said, and “most of those shots are not successful in causing instant death and are therefore likely to cause extended pain and suffering, not to mention the danger of hitting a mistaken target!” he said.

As for the state of Florida urging homeowners to remove iguanas “whenever possible,” Magill agrees that the animals need to be removed.

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“Having said that, I believe that the state made a mistake when they simply said it’s alright to kill iguanas without specifically stating how to do it humanely and under what conditions,” said Magill.

In addition to calling professionals, homeowners can shoo iguanas away from their property by spraying them with water, removing their preferred plants from gardens, filling in holes, and hanging windchimes and CDs, both of which deter the animals.

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