Puerto Rico, plagued by iguanas for years, is taking a violent stand against the ubiquitous reptiles.
The government is proposing an iguana eradication project that would both eliminate the long-time nuisances, and bolster the territory's lackluster economy by exporting the reptiles' meat for as much as $6 a pound.
"That is a lot more than chicken," said Daniel Galan Kercado, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. "It has great economic potential.
The reptiles have cost the U.S. territory hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by sunbathing on San Juan's airport runways and disrupting traffic; causing power outages by building nests near power plants and wrecking building foundations by burrowing holes underneath them.
The Department of Health approved Galan's plan to train volunteers to capture live iguanas and bring them to a processing center where they can be killed and prepared for export. The complete plan is expected to be finalized by May, when it will be presented to several government agencies for final approval.
Galan makes a point to emphasize that the iguanas are not native to Puerto Rico (they hadn't been seen in the wild on the island until the 1970s when owners released them and they quickly bred) and that the animals are harmful to the island.
A scientist who runs a conservation program, Javier Laureano, notes that the reptiles' sheer population (estimated to be 4 million—slightly higher than Pueryo Rico's human population) creates a contentious situation. Iguanas snarl traffic, devour crops and people respond by plowing them down with cars and setting them ablaze.
"Measures need to be taken to diminish the species," Laureano said. "But we should not turn the iguana issue into a with hunt."
Galan, the Natural Resource Department secretary said many companies have stepped up to offer their services, but he's still trying to find a group to help with the meat export.