By Shermain Bique-Charles
Farmers battling to increase the nation’s food supply amid the coronavirus pandemic are facing yet another threat – this time from iguanas attacking their crops.
“I received some seedlings from the agriculture ministry and as soon as the vegetables started to sprout, here comes the iguanas,” one local farmer told Observer.
The young man said he doesn’t know how to manage them – only to catch and kill them. “But the more I see them… it’s like these things resurrect,” he said.
Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr Janil Gore-Francis confirmed that her officers have been bombarded with calls about the pervasive reptiles.
“We have been inundated with calls by farmers, and some households in certain areas have also been reporting their presence even on trees in their surroundings. Farmers reported that these iguanas have just consumed their seedlings,” she said.
The iguanas are more prevalent in areas including Cassada Gardens and Judges Hill. Dr Gore-Francis admits that the department is struggling to deal with the issue for several reasons.
“We have been trying to gather information because the fact is, iguanas are not really a plant pest. However, it is a menace and we are trying at the ministry level to see what can be done. We understand some people are hunting the green iguana,” she said.
Dr Gore-Francis explained that the green iguana, although native to parts of the Caribbean, is invasive to Antigua.
She said it was important to know how to differentiate between them and indigenous reptiles.
“It’s an emerging issue and we don’t know how it is going to impact the farmers … but we are trying to be proactive and try to manage the population before it gets to a stage where it could be a major problem for our farmers,” Dr Gore Francis said.
“A few nationalities that live here have been hunting them. If you eat them that’s good. But we have to make sure that we can differentiate between them,” she said.
The Plant Protection Unit’s observations suggest the iguanas are more active during warm weather.
“So, they come out early in the afternoon. We need to understand its biology and its behaviour if we are going to control it,” Dr Gore Francis added.
Arica Hill, executive director of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), said invasive species can have a devastating effect on small islands like Antigua.
“It’s very important to manage them, because once they get out of hand it’s very difficult to reel it back – and the damage can be long-term,” she explained.
Hill said there was an important distinction between the invasive green iguana and the native ground lizard.
“The ground lizard is green and brown in colour and beautiful in my opinion. They belong here so they serve a very important function in terms of insect control,” she said.
The lizards are already under pressure from cats eating them. “If you notice an excess of gnats and mosquitoes in your garden, it could be because there are not enough lizards,” Hill added.