The number of green iguanas in the wild has been increasing, with more than 2,500 removed from Kaohsiung and Pingtung County alone this year, an academic has said.
The invasive species has spread across Taiwan, said Chen Tien-hsi (陳添喜), a professor at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation.
Imported into the nation as pets, the iguanas are small at birth, but can grow into “2m monsters,” the Kaohsiung Agriculture Bureau said on Sunday.
Photo: Chen Wen-chan, Taipei Times
Green iguanas do not have any natural enemies in Taiwan, as no native lizard species can reach their size, the bureau said, adding that adult green iguanas have huge appetites, feeding on insects as well as crops.
In groups, they threaten native species, the bureau said, adding that their “dragon-like” appearance can startle people.
Since 2014, authorities have removed more than 7,000 green iguanas from the wild, Chen said.
From 2014 to 2017, they caught fewer than 100, but this year alone they have caught more than 3,000, he said.
Green iguanas move through ditches and water channels, such as the Fongshan River (鳳山溪), the Caogong Canal (曹公圳) or the Love River (愛河) in Kaohsiung, he said.
The lizards prefer to live in parks that have access to water, he said, adding that they can be spotted in Dadong Park, Weiwuying Metropolitan Park, Chengcing Lake (澄清湖), the Heart of Love River (愛河之心), and Kaohsiung Metropolitan Park in Nanzih District (楠梓).
The crowds at Weiwuying Metropolitan Park make it more difficult to catch the lizards, he said, adding that the iguanas dive into the park’s pond when they sense danger.
Recent heavy rains in southern Taiwan have driven the lizards into towns along the coasts of Kaohsiung and Pingtung, he said.
The Agriculture Bureau said it has discovered breeding grounds in Kaohsiung’s Niaosong (鳥松) and Renwu (仁武) districts, and would step up efforts to catch the lizards — especially fully grown ones.
More than 500 green iguanas were caught in the city this year with outside help, the bureau said.
It urged residents to call the 1999 hotline if they see green iguanas, adding that releasing them back into the wild would not only hurt the environment, but also create extra costs for the government.
The Council of Agriculture said it would draft regulations on the purchase, sale and breeding of green iguanas.
Owners of green iguanas would be required to register their pets, the council said.
Chen said the measures would help control the number of green iguanas in the nation.
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