American Iguanas - pests not pets

Americans Iguana - pests not pets 

American IguanaThe American iguana is a declared pest in Fiji. It is said to have been brought illegally into the country and released in Qamea Island. Now almost 10 years later, it has spread to Laucala, Taveuni and Matagi Island as well. If the American iguanas are not controlled and eradicated it could have disastrous effect on our environment, biodiversity, food security and the economy.

About American Iguanas

American iguanas are native to Central and South America. I has not only been declared a pest in Fiji but in other countries as well because of the damage it has caused to the environment and biodiversity of these countries.

The adult American iguana can grow to almost two meters in length and nine kilograms in weight. They are green but may also appear bluish with black markings. Adult American iguanas have long have long dangerous spines along their head, neck, back and tail, and long sharp claws, which are used in defense.

They also have long flaps of saggy skin hanging from the chins to the base of their necks, which is called a dewlap.

On both sides of their cheeks they have a large scale underneath their tympanums (a slightly sunken leathery covering of their eardrums). This large scale is a key identification feature for the American iguanas. The large scale and dewlap are ways to differentiate between American and the Fiji iguanas.

American iguanas breed rapidly and a female can lay 50 to 80 eggs. As herbivores, American iguanas mainly eat plants. They have very sharp teeth and can shred leaves and branches with great ease. They also very good swimmers and when threatened will dive into the water from their tree perch and swim rapidly away.

American iguanas are a threat that needs to be controlled and eradicated.

They pose an immediate threat to food security in villages and islands where they are present as they eat plants such as dalo leaves and cassava tops, bele, tomatoes, cabbage, beans and yam vines. If American iguana numbers are left unchecked, food sustainability in Fijian villages will be a great risk in the near future. Large numbers of American iguanas would devastate the environment around the villages and cause unfold economic hardship.

These iguanas could also affect Fiji’s biodiversity having a serious impact on endemic plants and bird eggs and nestlings. American iguanas post risk to our endangered native iguanas through possible transmission of iguana-specific diseases, parasites and pathogens from American iguanas to the endemic Fijian iguanas.

What’s been done to eradicate the American Iguanas in Fiji

In 2010, an American Iguana Eradication Campaign Taskforce was set-up to eradicate these iguanas. The taskforce has carried out a number of community outreach programmes highlighting the potential harm American iguana could do to Fiji’s endemic iguanas, tourism industry, village vegetable gardens and the thriving agricultural industry on Taveuni.

Recent surveys show that the American Iguana populations are growing on Qamea, Matagi and Laucala islands.
The eradication of these iguanas is a challenge as they are arboreal (tree dwelling), well camouflaged and have excellent eyesight thus they able to avoid detection. They are also excellent swimmers and usually climb a tree and drop into water where they can stay submerged for an hour or more.

A good way of eradication would be locating all American iguana nesting areas and controlling the breeding by destroying the eggs.

Biosecurity Concern

There are heavy penalties and/or imprisonment for anyone found in possession of/or transporting this pest (American Iguana). People should report any sighting of the American iguana to it nearest Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) office.