Why Scientists Are Hunting Down Iguanas in Florida

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

In South Florida, iguanas had better watch their backs. That's because scientists are on an unusual hunt to kill them, with the help of captive bolt guns and a $63,000 research grant, according to the Sun Sentinel.

It's not as cruel as it might seem at first glance. The green iguana, native to Central and South America, is an invasive species in Florida. The large lizards—which can grow up to 6 feet long—first made it to Florida in the 1960s, and as their population has exploded, they have expanded farther north. The reptiles damage roads, sidewalks, sea walls, and flood-control canals with their burrows; chomp their way through landscaping; spread Salmonella, largely by pooping in people's backyard pools; and compete with the endangered Miami blue butterfly for precious food resources.

The population boom has caused an uptick in complaints from residents, Florida Fish and Wildlife's Sarah Funck told the Sun Sentinel in 2017, pushing the state to find new strategies to deal with the reptiles. One approach? Hire scientists to hunt them down and kill them.

As part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife research project, 15 University of Florida biologists have been tasked with executing as many iguanas as possible in Broward County (home to Fort Lauderdale and parts of the Miami metropolitan area), setting out in teams of two at night. Armed with flashlights and captive bolt guns—which are often used on animals in slaughterhouses and are considered a humane way of killing an animal instantly and painlessly—the researchers attempt to sneak up on sleeping lizards and shoot them before they can scurry away. They also sometimes dispatch the iguanas by smashing their heads against a hard surface, including the side of a truck or a boat.

They've exterminated 249 lizards so far. They take the dead animals back to the lab to be weighed and measured for their dataset, then deposit the carcasses in a landfill. The iguana killing spree is expected to last into May.

While they have tried trapping the iguanas in county parks, they haven't succeeded in capturing any with that method.

As part of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's iguana-eradicating efforts, the agency has also been hosting public workshops on how to deter and trap iguanas and has hired a dedicated trapper to control populations on public lands in the Florida Keys. 

[h/t Sun Sentinel]

Toronto, 'Raccoon Capital of the World,' Is Fighting Its Trash Panda Problem ... and Losing

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iStock

Toronto’s “raccoon-resistant” garbage cans aren’t as effective as city officials hoped. As NPR reports, the self-proclaimed “raccoon capital of the world” has been unable to outwit some of the city’s cleverest "trash pandas."

For years, Torontonians have struggled to contend with the city’s booming raccoon population and its insatiable appetite for old pizza, overripe bananas, and just about everything else that gets thrown out with the trash. In 2016, the city spent CA$31 million (about US$24 million) on waste bins that were specially designed to keep furry scavengers out. To open one up, a rotating handle on the lid must be turned to unhinge a gravity lock. The hope was that raccoons, which lack opposable thumbs, wouldn’t be able to break in.

Cameras cast doubt on that theory. In a heist that would make National Treasure's Nicolas Cage proud, footage uploaded to YouTube by the Toronto Star shows a determined mama raccoon cracking the code to open the lid and get to the good stuff inside.

Even without thumbs, raccoons have nimble paws. On top of that, urban raccoons boast some serious street smarts. One study by raccoon expert Suzanne MacDonald revealed that raccoons knew to avoid busy intersections, and another study found that city raccoons are better than their country counterparts at figuring out how to open garbage can lids.

Research from the early 1900s showed that raccoons could crack 11 out of 13 locks—which included latches, levers, buttons, hooks, and bolts—to open a box with food inside. As for the episode seen above, Toronto officials and an employee from the garbage can company said broken bins are to blame. The faulty bin was replaced, but the camera kept rolling, and footage showed that raccoons were able to knock over and break into the new bin, too.

This time, the bin manufacturer blamed the breach on a faulty handle. On the bright side, the city reported that these break-ins aren’t widespread. Out of nearly 500,000 bins, only 24 raccoon-related problems were reported.

MacDonald has been tracking whether the city’s “very fat” raccoons have lost any weight since the new bins have been rolled out. While the results aren't yet conclusive, “they’re not starving to death, that’s for sure,” she told Toronto Star reporter Amy Dempsey.

[h/t NPR]

How You Can Help Animals Affected by Hurricane Florence

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iStock

If you've ever considered rescuing a pet, now's the time to take the plunge: You could save an animal's life if you choose to adopt from a shelter in the path of Hurricane Florence.

With the Category 1 storm making landfall over the Carolinas this week, government officials have urged as many as 1.7 million residents to evacuate their homes. As a result, local animal shelters are scrambling to find homes for abandoned pets before the worst of the storm hits, and if they aren't able to place them in time, some animals will have to be euthanized.

That makes now the perfect time to adopt a pet if you're in the position to do so. Some shelters, like the Pender County Animal Shelter in Burgaw, North Carolina, have even waived their adoption fees in an effort to encourage more people to take pets home.

If you can't make a commitment to owning a pet at this time, fostering is also an option. Most shelters in the storm path will gladly place pets with someone who can give a dog or cat shelter until it's safe for them to return to the area. And if that's still not a possibility for you, you can help shelters by making a monetary donation. Transporting pets and making sure they're spayed, neutered, and vaccinated costs money, and shelters can use donations to help more pets get out the door and into safe homes.

The Charleston Animal Society, the Greenville Humane Society, the Humane Society of Charlotte, and the Pender County Animal Shelter are just a handful of animal shelters in need of assistance. You can also look at specific requests for support local shelters have made through this website.

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