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First, I have to thank Alex and Oti for inviting me to tag along on one of their shoots. These guys are awesome!! I only wish my Spanish was as good as their English. This post is not for the squeamish.
If this type of activity bothers you, stop now.
Some will ask-
Why do they need to hunt iguana in Puerto Rico?
It’s a fair question.
Basically, the island is over-run by the Green
or Common Iguana
. They are NOT
indigenous and there are NO
natural predators to keep them in check (other than humans). On top of that, they ruin millions of dollars in crops every year. Besides, they are supposed to be quite tasty (still working on that one).
Here are a couple of
quotes from Wikipedia about them-
“They are very common throughout Puerto Rico, where they are colloquially known as “Gallina de palo” (as in “Chicken of the Tree”) and considered as an invasive species introduced from South America…”
And… “In February 2012, the government of Puerto Rico proposed that the islands’ iguanas, which were said to have a population of 4 million and considered to be a non-native nuisance, be eradicated and sold for meat.” See more on Wikipedia.
So the Government of PR has opened the door to the locals taking them out. Which leads us to today’s activities.
On the grounds of Finca de Palmas in Santa Isabel-
As luck would have it, this 300 acre farm is less than 15 minutes from our house. The guys are all from Aguada
so it was most of 2 hours for them to make the run. Aguada is near Rincon
on the west coast, but there are
about 50 street lights between them and Ponce so that makes for slow going.
There was also a University of PR Biology major, Christina
, working on her thesis. She needed to collect iguana muscle tissue samples so this trip worked out real good for her. I was impressed with her ‘due
diligence’ to scientific principles and methods.
Anyway, we met at the Gabia Exit
on Highway 52
at 8AM. It is right next to the Santa Isabel/Coamo Exit
. The weather was clear and somewhat hot, but it was a ‘Dry Heat’.
I must be getting acclimated as the heat does not bother me much anymore. The pesky black flies were a much bigger hassle, but they don’t bite.
After meeting, we drove past the fruit juice plant (where I had scored some cheap plastic drums) so I knew right where we were. After that, it was less than a mile to the gated farm where we met up with the general manager of the place.
They were in the middle of hanging fresh cut green banana bunches.
The guys chipped in to empty the wagon of bananas as it was to be our ride for the day.
Though all the bunches are wrapped in blue plastic to protect them from the birds, one of them had a bird’s nest with an egg in it. It made for an interesting photo.
Once that was done, we gathered for a brief prayer before heading off on the hunt. I liked that.
My quick overview of the farm was from the back of a ‘bouncy’ wagon being pulled by a big farm tractor. Most of my shots of the farm were taken that way.
It was pretty cool. There were acres of bananas, mangos and some papaya. Mixed in every now and then were plots of mature palms of all kinds.
If you have the space, they have the palms to fill it.
There was even a couple of stands of mature, multicolored “Rainbow” Eucalyptus. Cattle could be seen roaming other parts of the property.
It was a short, 10 minute ride to where we started hunting.
The general manager in a pickup, lead us to the spot where ‘tree chickens’
could be found. Iguanas need to soak up the sun so they climb trees until they are way up at the top. That said, they are well camouflaged.
Most of the time I did not see them until they started to fall out of the trees after being shot.
It did not take long before they started ‘falling’ out of the trees.
To be clear, these guys are hunting with precision .22 caliber pellet air-rifles. They are single shot so you have to stop and ‘cock’ them each time. These are nothing like the Daisy BB gun your grandfather used in years past. I got the opportunity to shoot Alex’s piston actuated rifle. It had very little recoil and made little noise. Kind of like a ‘stealthy’ 22. It was easy to dispatch an iguana with one.
We worked our way along a dirt road taking out a half dozen here and a half dozen there. In 3.5 hours, they had collected several dozen of them.
Oti spent part of his time helping Christina, the U of PR Student collect her tissue samples.
We turned around and came back to the tractor where Churches’ Chicken was being served. A special thanks to Jose for the ice cold water he shared. It really hit the spot.
I left the house without bringing any water with me. A real mistake.
After eating, they decided to head back to the staging area where the cars were parked. I used the opportunity to call it a day as I was pretty sunburned at this point. I would be in trouble If I stayed out in the sun for a couple more hours. I did get some group shots before heading out.
Stuff You did not Know About Iguanas-
or Common Iguana
can grow to about 5.5 feet (head to tip of tail) and weigh upwards of 20 pounds, though most average between 6 to 12 pounds. Despite their name, they can be quite colorful, as can be seen in a couple shots. They are avid swimmers and usually stay close to water, but can venture far into dry areas.
Their thick strong claws allow them climb to the tops of trees to sun themselves. It’s how they absorb vitamin D.
Iguanas can make a kind of ‘cackle or hiss’ sound when they perceive an imminent threat. I have heard it. Most of the time, they will simply run away.
Besides a row of spines along their back, the iguana’s primary defensive mechanism is their long tail which they can use like a ‘whip’. Though I’ve never been close enough to get hit, I do know of a couple who have, and it can leave a very nasty welt. Iguanas generally do not bite, but their teeth are extremely sharp. Their claws can leave scratches with the potential for serious infection. Best to give them a wide path and treat any marks with an antibacterial. If it’s bad, go to an emergency room, straight away.
There is, as with chicken and other raw meats, the potential of passing Salmonella from handling iguana, but I have not heard of any specific cases of Salmonella poisoning in PR.
Did you know that iguanas have a type of 3rd eye on top of their head and it’s sensitive to light? I didn’t, but it’s true!
My GEICO Gecko-
Last year, I found a large bright green ‘lizard’ sunning itself on a potted avocado tree out front. He stayed there so long, I was able to go in the house, collect up my camera, switch to the macro lens and take a bunch of shots.
It never moved.
Now I realize my GEICO Gecko was a baby Iguana getting some much needed Vitamin D.
We recently had a ‘big boy’ show up, but I was able to run it off with my water type pressurized fire extinguisher. It didn’t hurt him, but he didn’t like it either. The dogs went ballistic. As it turns out, the hoya out back features some of their most favorite food- Jobo, Wild Plum or Hog Plum (Spondias mombin). I’ve seen the over-ripe fruit littering the dry creek bed.
Alex told me later that they had scored another 300 iguanas at the 2nd site that afternoon. It must have been like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’.
That’s literally 10 times what we got from the morning run. Since I cut out early, I did not bring any of the meat home. I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity to get some.
All the guys and their sons conducted themselves as pros as did Christina, the Biology Major. No one acted carelessly. Safety was the rule of the day. I would definitely go out with them again. They are true sportsmen.
If you are local and this interests you, they have a Facebook page
– Los Iguaneros de Aguada PR
. I was the 25th person to ‘Like’ the page.
YES! It was a another fantastic day to be in Puerto Rico. ARRG!
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