[not just pythons in s. florida]
Boca Raton grapples with exploding iguana population: 'They'll never get rid of them,' expert says
By MISSY DIAZ
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Monday, October 26, 2009
Boca Raton - Three years ago, Chris Canning got a kick out of sitting on his patio, watching iguanas crawl from nearby brush and scurry over to Pradera, the community across the retention pond from Canning's townhome in L'Ambiance.
"Now it's not so amusing because they're coming to our side," said Canning, 69, who has lived in his home in the Via Verde area for 20 years. "They will just eat [my landscaping] down to the nub. Plus, they crawl on it and break it. You'll be left with sticks."
The exploding iguana population prompted Canning this month to e-mail Mayor Susan Whelchel, asking for the city's help in combating the pesky creatures that feast on bushes and flowers and then defecate, up to a pound a day, on rooftops, boat docks and driveways.
At the Oct. 14 City Council meeting, Whelchel asked if the city has a policy on iguana management. It doesn't.
The mayor wants to change that and plans to address the iguana situation again at Tuesday's council meeting.
Several years ago the city received a flood of iguana complaints, spurring officials to post iguana-management information its website. Advice ranged from warnings not to feed them, avoid planting impatiens or mango trees and sprinkling plants with garlic and hot peppers.
In the past couple of years, resident complaints have lessened, Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said.
But the creatures have become a hot topic since a 6-footer bit a 7-year-old Oakland Park girl on the foot last month. The wound required 23 stiches.
Whelchel wants Boca Raton to see if it should follow the lead of cities on Florida's west coast that have hired trappers. Marco Island pays $7,500 for six-month contracts. Sanibel also contracts with trappers. Whether that's the answer for Boca Raton needs to be discussed, Whelchel said.
"If it's going to cost an astronomical amount of money and it would only solve the problem for a week, we've got to look at a better solution," she said. "We've got to coordinate a true solution through the state of Florida. Can Boca ... possibly offer some assistance? The answer is yes, if council wants to go in that direction."
The state has no personnel or money to get involved in iguana removal, according to Pat Behnke, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"We're certainly aware that iguanas are on the loose down there," Behnke said. "I know they're a nuisance to people, but as far as being a predator, they're not. We manage bears because they could be a danger. Pythons and boa constrictors, we might send an officer. Removal would be on a case-by-case basis."
While trapping and removing iguanas can be effective, it's not going to eradicate them, said Bill Kern, associate professor of entomology and nematology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Fort Lauderdale. "They'll never get rid of them," Kern said. "They're breeding in the wild now."
Iguanas, native to South and Central America, now number in the hundreds of thousands in Florida. They inhabit just 20 counties, mostly along the state's southeast and southwest coasts, and are most often found in urban and suburban settings, according to Kern.
"In natural areas we still have predators, like bobcats and alligators, that help to control them," he said.
Boca Raton trapper Patrick Barry catches iguanas for customers between Hollywood and West Palm Beach on a daily basis. Cost ranges from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand, he said. He uses a trap to catch them and says what he does with them afterward is "proprietary information."
Chuck O'Brien, president of the L'Ambiance neighborhood, says residents are fed up. To chase off the unwelcome visitors, they have spent $1,000 on a 30-day supply of Iguana-Rid, a product invented by Mark Streisfeld, who lives west of Boca Raton. The community's 24 acres will be doused with the stuff this month and if the results are positive, it will continue monthly, O'Brien said.
"The board is on board," he said.