Florida iguanas will soon be hunted at Miami-Dade parks

The county wants private companies to set traps in parks with large iguana populations, then dispose of the reptiles humanely.
The Miami-Dade parks system wants to hire contractors to hunt and kill the creatures.
The Miami-Dade parks system wants to hire contractors to hunt and kill the creatures. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Dec. 6, 2023

Fed up with iguanas occupying county parks, Miami-Dade wants to hire some reptile trappers to capture and kill the invasive intruders.

Miami-Dade’s contracting arm posted draft solicitation documents earlier this month for planned “iguana control services” that an internal memo said could be worth a combined $700,000 a year. The county wants private companies to set traps in parks with large iguana populations, then dispose of the reptiles humanely.

“The shooting of iguanas, pellet gun or otherwise, is strictly prohibited,” reads the draft solicitation, posted Nov. 16. “Euthanasia of iguanas must be conducted off-site in a safe and careful manner.”

Native to Central America and some Caribbean islands, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says green iguanas made their way to the Miami area in the 1960s and established themselves as unwelcome arrivals in the decades that followed.

There are infrastructure complaints, with iguanas damaging seawalls and roadways with burrowing. There are nuisance complaints, with iguanas climbing into gutters and plopping into swimming pools. And there are complaints about iguanas leaving big messes.

‘A tremendous’ iguana mess

“They produce a tremendous amount of feces,” said Ron Magill, communications director at Zoo Miami, one of the iguana hot spots identified in county correspondence about the pending solicitation. “Every week I’ll get someone who sends me a photo of a big pile of feces. I’ll say: ‘That’s from an iguana.’ They’ll say: ‘Oh, my God, that’s bigger than from my dog.’ "

In an email, a Parks administrator emphasized Miami-Dade was following the lead of Fish and Wildlife commission in seeking the humane removal of iguanas.

“Just as in the case of the Burmese Python, the invasive iguana, non-native to Florida, is wreaking havoc on Florida’s native wildlife and natural environment, and Parks seeks to humanely remove them due to that impact,” said Maria Padron, a special projects administrator at Parks.

With residents complaining, iguanas are increasingly in the cross hairs of local governments. In Coral Gables, Mayor Vince Lago said the “City Beautiful” is considering how to humanely remove the reptiles.

“This is becoming a real problem” Lago said at the City Commission meeting earlier this month. “Right when you step out of City Hall and you’re walking to your car, look down, and all you’ll see is invasives.”

Key Biscayne already has iguana trappers on contract for its village parks. But Mayor Joe Rasco said unchecked populations in larger parks in Key Biscayne — Florida’s Bill Baggs and Miami-Dade’s Crandon — make it an uphill task to keep iguanas at bay. He said he welcomed a Miami-Dade effort to target Crandon’s iguanas.

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“It’s about time,” he said. “We’ve had problems with these iguanas for years ... There isn’t a resident who won’t tell you about their iguana story.”

The hunt for unwelcome iguanas hasn’t brought the kind of delicate tactics used by Miami-Dade in a recent effort to reduce another invasive population: peacocks.

County law prohibits euthanizing peafowl, and Miami-Dade is currently encouraging local governments to pay for peacock vasectomies to reduce the numbers pecking at neighborhood cars and roosting on residential roofs.

Iguana recipes: ‘Chicken of the Trees’

State and local law offer no specific protections for iguanas other than they not be treated cruelly. Florida promotes iguana recipes as a motivator for hunting the “Chicken of the Trees.” While the University of Florida’s agriculture extension office in Broward encourages making Iguana Tacos (boil the meat, add onions to the water for flavor) it warns against getting too experimental. “DO NOT TRY TO MAKE IGUANA CEVICHE,” reads the recipe newsletter.

County documents don’t mandate a euthanizing procedure. Florida recommends a shot directly to an iguana’s head with a firearm, air gun or other device. Michael Ronquillo, who owns a Miami company called Humane Iguana Control, said his operation uses that approach and that he expects to pursue county work once Miami-Dade formally opens the application process.

“The recent move by Miami-Dade County is great news, not only for homeowners and business owners, but also for our native species,” he said.

Raquel Regalado, the Miami-Dade commissioner who sponsored the recent peacock effort, said she’s getting ready for some iguana action early next year. Her district includes Key Biscayne and other leafy suburban areas in and around Miami where iguanas are plentiful.

“We’re working with the cities to do a district-wide round up,” she said. The idea is to take action in the winter, when cold temperatures leave iguanas somewhere between sluggish and temporarily paralyzed.

‘I have yet to find an iguana lover’

She said she’s not concerned about backlash. “It’s different from the peacocks,” Regalado said. “I have yet to find an iguana lover.”

Jeff Wood, owner of Miami Pest Animal Removal, said possums and raccoons still provide more business than iguanas do. He said iguana calls tend to drop after Miami experiences the rare deep freeze, when cold temperatures shift from immobilizing iguanas to actually killing many of them. But that’s not going to be the end of it.

“The iguanas are never going to be gone,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s part of living down here.”