IN 2010, a new menace was confirmed in Fiji.
Fiji's native flora and fauna have been previously devastated by animals, because of their being widespread in the islands maybe mistakenly thought to be native, the mongoose, goats, rats, wild pigs and cats. In the American iguana (Iguana iguana), more commonly known among iguana lovers as the green iguana Fiji's native flora and fauna now faces a new threat: the American iguana (Iguana iguana), more commonly known among iguana lovers as the green iguana.
Given the name American iguana to avoid confusion with Fiji's very own banded and crested iguanas, which are indeed green in colour, this new silent invader is in proliferation paradise. Unlike the obvious devastation caused by floods, hurricanes and tropical storms, Nunia Thomas of NatureFiji-MareqitiViti says the impact of the American iguana is in its exponentially growing population which will affect local communities, businesses, the tourism industry, agricultural industry and government if the current manageable population is left unchecked.
Since 2010, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, through the American Iguana Eradication Task Force and the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji has been conducting scientific field and desk top research; awareness campaigns and capacity building programs to assist government (the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji) develop and implement an eradication plan.
Under the Eradication Plan, which was eventually formulated after widespread consultations, the immediate actions have been grouped under the two main categories of containment and eradication.
The containment of the American iguanas, stop the further spread of the population has several steps. These are:
a. Strengthen border control and surveillance for all vessels departing Qamea/ Laucala/ Matagi (Increase biosecurity protocol, build boat crew and passengers ability to correctly identify an American iguana, develop reporting procedures for quick capture and euthanasia of the animal);
b. Strengthen border control and surveillance for all vessels departing Qamea/ Laucala/ Matagi at destination ports; Taveuni, Natuvu, Savusavu, Nabouwalu, Lautoka, Suva, Kadavu and other outer islands;
c. Establish efficient American iguana incursion response plans for non-invaded islands starting from high-risk to low-risk islands; and
d. Target American iguana nesting areas during peak mating and nesting months (April - October) to rid the population of gravid (pregnant) females before they add more individuals to the population.
To eradicate the threat of American iguanas to native flora and fauna, there will be moves to:
e. Train wildlife detector dogs and their handlers (18 months) to sniff out American iguanas and their nests;
f. Mobilise wildlife detector dogs during peak months (April to October each year);
g. Train and mobilise communities/ selected members of the community with proper euthanasia methods;
h. Continue the implementation of the Biosecurity Promulgation and prosecuting individuals and businesses that break this promulgation;
i. Mobilise American iguana hunting teams at peak months (with dogs) to:
i. Prevent females from laying any eggs successfully (elimination by getting rid of the source of the population growth)
ii. Shoot and successfully kill American iguanas in trees/ difficult access areas (using specially recommended fire arms and kayaks); and
j. Set a bounty during peak months (April-October) for the successful capture and euthanasia of American iguanas and their eggs.
This work cannot however be undertaken solely by non-governmental organisations which focus on the environment. It needs continuous training and research with the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and local communities who will need to lead this initiative if we are to ensure that this animal does not become an economic problem for Fiji.