The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is attempting to clarify a controversial statement that urged South Florida homeowners to “kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible.”
Green iguanas are an invasive species in Florida and are booming in population. Wildlife officials say the lizards can damage infrastructure, spread salmonella and pose a risk to native animals and plants.
But in a Thursday news release, FWC Commissioner Rodney Barreto indicated that the agency’s earlier directive about killing the reptiles may have come across as too extreme.
“Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up,” Barreto said. “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.”
Previously, the FWC website’s information page on green iguanas stated, “Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to humanely kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in south Florida.”
Those two sentences were removed after the language attracted media attention earlier this month and incited some backlash, including from The Humane Society of the United States. The nonprofit accused the agency of promoting indiscriminate, random killing and criticized it for not providing guidance on what constituted a “humane” killing.
Now, the website still notes that green iguanas “can be humanely killed on private property year-round with landowner permission” and that the agency “encourages removal of green iguanas from private properties by landowners.” It also states that people may be able to take trapped iguanas to exotic animal veterinarians or animal control for humane euthanasia, and encourages people to contact professional wildlife trappers if necessary.
The agency also provides information on nonlethal ways to deter iguanas including hanging wind chimes, removing plants that attract them and spraying them with water.
Green iguanas are native to Mexico and Central and South America. They’re believed to have been begun populating the South Florida landscape in the 1960s, when iguanas sold in the state as pets either escaped or their owners released them outside. Climate change has fueled their spread in the state, with increasingly warmer weather making their survival easier.
“In the last five or 10 years, I’ve seen the population literally explode,” wildlife expert Joseph Wasilewski told The Washington Post.
It continues to be legal in Florida to buy and sell green iguanas ― as well as many other exotic animals ― at pet stores, reptile shows and online, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Though some have argued that the state should ban the sale of the lizards as pets given the circumstances, the FWC told WFSU News earlier this month that it believes doing so at this point wouldn’t make a big difference because there are so many already in the wild.
However, the agency does operate an Exotic Pet Amnesty Program that allows anyone to surrender an exotic pet with “no questions asked” if they cannot care for the animal ― an effort to prevent the animals from simply being released outside. According to the FWC, pets surrendered to the program are adopted out to new homes.