In July 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encouraged homeowners in South Florida to aid in the removal of invasive green iguanas (Iguana iguana) on private property without a license or permit. Soon after, countless videos and photographs began to surface showing Miami residents running iguanas over with shopping carts, beating them with shoes and suffocating them with ropes.
Iguanas are a large species of reptile native to the Caribbean, parts of Mexico, Central America and northern Brazil, and was introduced through the pet trade. Since then, these lizards have wreaked havoc on Florida’s ecosystem.
Invasive reptiles are not a new problem in Florida. The climate and diverse ecosystems of South Florida have become a breeding ground for 174 of non-native and invasive reptiles.
However, iguanas have a more notable impact on humans than most invasive reptiles in Florida. Iguanas in Miami are responsible for damaging lawns and canals with their burrows and ruining outdoor gardens by eating flowers.
The invasive iguana population has seen rapid increase in recent years. Earlier this summer, the FWC released a statement urging Florida residents to kill iguanas on sight so long as they are on private property. In public areas, trained contractors must handle iguana removal.
But, the statement triggered a killing spree that sparked outrage in many animal rights organizations as Florida residents began posting videos of cruel and gory methods of dispatching invasive iguanas.
The FWC has since taken steps to clarify that they endorse only humane methods of euthanization in light of these graphic videos. The FWC lists pellet guns, a swift blow to the brain with a shovel and bringing iguanas to a veterinarian as euthanization options.
Hilary Flower, assistant professor of environmental studies, recognizes the ecological importance of invasive species removal but urges the public to consider the ethics of this problem.
“It has to be done humanely because individual animals should not be treated with cruelty,” Flower said. "We want them out from an ecosystem perspective that we have, but I think that is just how people cannot be cruel to pets; it's important that we be as humane as we can to any of the organisms that we encounter.”
Other invasives in Southern Florida have faced similar ethical dilemmas. Eric Jurgens, a resident of South Florida, is licensed to remove invasive Burmese pythons from Everglades National Park. Though it is legal to kill a Burmese python in Florida without a license or permit, it takes training and a special permit to legally remove them from a national park.
Jurgens is part of the Python Action Team Removing Invasive Constrictors (PATRIC) and is qualified to remove invasive pythons using methods in compliance with FWC regulations. Jurgens stresses the importance of experience when handling invasive species.
“I think any efforts to remove invasive species should be handled by qualified individuals. It is inappropriate to allow any random person without experience to take action, as it leads to increased inhumane acts of violence against wildlife both native and nonnative,” Jurgens said.