THE CAYMAN ISLANDS, a British territory, does not tax companies. So Grand Cayman, its largest part, has more companies (106,000) than people (61,000). Its population of green iguanas greatly outnumbers both. There are perhaps 1.3m of them, more than 6,000 per square kilometre. The lizards, which can be up to 1.5 metres (five feet) long, are a nuisance. They defecate on cars, chomp up crops and gardens, eat the eggs of wild birds and short-circuit electricity transformers. The burrows in which they lay eggs damage roads and golf courses.
The pests arrived on the island about 25 years ago as pets. In their native habitats in South and Central America, snakes and birds of prey feast on iguana eggs and babies. In Grand Cayman they face few threats besides cars; iguana roadkill is a frequent sight. So the Cayman Islands’ environment department has intervened. On October 29th it began a cull of green iguanas, paying $6 per dead lizard to a few hundred people who have registered as bounty hunters. Each is expected to kill hundreds a month (humanely, the government insists). By mid-November they had dispatched more than 100,000. Although the rate of culling will decline as beasts become harder to find, the green-iguana population is likely to fall significantly.
At the same time the government is trying to bring back native blue iguanas, which were nearly wiped out by loss of habitat and by predators such as rats and cats. (Adult green iguanas defend themselves from these with spines, claws and whip-like tails.) Female blues lay from one to 20 eggs a year, compared with up to 70 for greens. By 2004 a dozen or so blue iguanas were left. A breeding programme increased their numbers and has released 1,000 into nature reserves with few predators.
The unloved green sort could bring the island extra cash. “Tree chicken” is a delicacy in some of the iguanas’ native countries. Spinion, a local firm, already exports lionfish, another invasive species. Now it plans to sell iguana meat to North America. Grand Cayman, known mainly as a tax haven, could become a leading supplier of tree chicken.