Cayman Islands to Export Iguanas as a Delicacy


A Cayman Islands business is processing iguanas—an invasive species, whose population is increasing exponentially—for sale to local restaurants and seeking an export license to sell the food as a delicacy to clients in the United States.

Spinion Ltd., which was set up to cull, process and sell lionfish, is expanding to help efforts to eradicate another invasive species. By commercializing green iguanas as a food source, the business hopes to encourage sustained hunting of the reptiles.

The business is offering between $1.25 and $1.50 to contracted hunters for live iguanas to be ethically slaughtered and prepared for sale at its George Town processing plant. Maria Yapelli, liaison officer for the business, acknowledged that the price per head is significantly less than the $5-per-iguana paid by the government in trial culls this year. But the venture needs to be commercially viable, she said. “We had one guy that got 20 iguanas in an hour, so that is still pretty good change,” she added. Spinion had applied, with the assistance of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, for a CITES license to import iguanas into the U.S. for sale, where the meat trades as a delicacy for significantly higher prices.

The license, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora because green iguanas are endangered in some countries and the trade is carefully regulated.

[. . .] A Department of Environment report on two publicly funded test culls this year concluded that contract hunters would need to cull nearly 200,000 green iguanas per year, at an estimated cost of more than $1 million, to make an impact on the exponentially increasing population of the invasive species.

[. . .] The report cited earlier surveys that indicate the green iguana population is doubling every 1.5 years, “threatening a catastrophic impact on the natural environment and socially unacceptable problems for agriculture, infrastructure and residential areas.”

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