An invasive green iguana lurks in the underbrush at Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort Thursday. Over-aggressive culling of the non-native species has created a public safety crisis on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of Christian Linder)
A rash of mishaps involving over-zealous green-iguana cullers this week has created a groundswell public backlash against unlicensed cullers on Blacktip Island.
“The green iguanas don’t belong here and need to be checked, but things’ve gotten out of hand,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “Every yahoo and his cousin’s running around with slingshots, golf clubs, cricket bats, lionfish spears, you name it.
“Thank God guns are illegal. And bows and arrows,” Skerritt said. “James Conlee took out a whole row of bar stools—guests still on them—with a croquet mallet at the tiki hut yesterday. Sent five people to the clinic.”
Authorities blamed the rogue hunters on the bounty placed on iguanas.
“It’s only supposed to be a handful of licensed cullers, but with the government paying $5 a lizard, everyone wants in on the fun and profit,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Folks’re throwing common sense out the window trying to kill as many iguanas as they can. And most aren’t trained to cull safely.
“We tried only paying licensed cullers, but they just brought in iguanas their unlicensed buddies killed and split the take with them,” Marquette said. “I’m arresting illegal cullers. And drunk cullers, legal or otherwise. But I only have the one jail cell. To them it’s a laugh. To the rest of us it’s a public safety nightmare.”
Many island residents support the crackdown.
“It’s scary going outside these days, not knowing if you’ll be caught in a culling melee,” Peachy Bottoms said. “Nighttime’s the worst. You don’t dare wander out with all the spears and bats and sand rakes flying. People are whacking first and checking their target afterwards. Our little Shelley caught a stray lionfish spear in the buttocks Wednesday.”
Island nurse Marissa Graysby voiced safety concerns as well.
“The clinic’s in shambles,” she said. “There’s only one of me, and I’m out of medical supplies. We’re not equipped for a dozen injuries a day. Sure, the iguanas are bad, but all these people with cuts and bruises and cracked skulls are worse. It doesn’t help that most of the cullers are three-sheets-to-the-wind drunk, either.”
Many cullers defended their actions.
“Doing a service to the island’s what we’re doing,” longtime resident Dermott Bottoms said. “Jack Cobia and them said green iguanas were bad, so we’re taking care of them, on our own time and at our own expense. We sit in some stupid class, that’s time we could be killing iguanas.
“And alcohol’s a help, not a hindrance,” Bottoms said. “Couple glasses of rum, I start to think like an iguana. That’s where the magic happens. And that third glass, well, that just sharpens my aim.”
Marquette, meanwhile, is focusing his crackdown in the island’s more populated areas.
“I’m concentrating on the resort strip where most of the injuries are occurring,” he said. “Away from the resorts, it’s pretty much a free-for-all, but it’s mostly culler-on-culler injuries. If I can keep the tourists safe, I’ll call it a victory.”