They are invasive reptiles the state considers a public nuisance, but in one South Florida city, iguanas have turned into a potential safety hazard and not for reasons you might think. The night team’s Karen Hensel explains in tonight’s 7Investigates.
It is legal to humanely get rid of iguanas in Florida, but it’s how they are being killed that has the Fort Lauderdale Police Department up in arms. Literally.
Fort Lauderdale Police Dept. Lt. Avery Figueras: “We’ve had an entire SWAT detachment sent out.”
In April, a 911 call about a man with a rifle on the roof of a building, triggered a SWAT team response. Body cameras rolled as officers located the source of the scare. Turns out, this property management employee said he was iguana hunting from above.
Man on body camera: “And unfortunately the damn iguanas, they take like, eight, nine shots to kill.”
Officer on body camera: “What kind of rifle were you using?”
Man: “A little pellet, it has a scope on it. My bad. My bad.”
Officer: “We get a lot of iguana calls like that man.”
Lt. Avery Figueras said emergency calls about people shooting at the big lizards, have created a big safety concern in the city, and not for the reptiles.
Lt. Avery Figueras: “I think this has a potential to be catastrophic, I really do. Lack of communication between law enforcement and citizens could result into unfortunate and unnecessary deadly force encounter, and that’s not withstanding an encounter from citizen to citizen.”
Last August, Bennett Elementary went into code red lockdown after reports of a possible armed subject on the property. Officers checked rooms and secured hallways, thankfully there was no threat.
Officer on body camera: “Witness just said she thinks subject was trying to shoot iguanas.”
And look at this picture posted online in April. A man outside Hollywood Hills Elementary School aiming what turned out to be a pellet gun. The post said “…he was taking aim at a large golden iguana.”
Lt. Avery Figueras: “Particular firearm he’s using looked very, very realistic.”
Realistic looking guns that are creating very real problems. Fort Lauderdale has an ordinance making it illegal to shoot air rifles and air pistols in the city.
Lt. Avery Figueras: “You cannot discharge a pellet gun, BB gun, within the city limits. So where the confusion lies is that FWC, Department of Fish and Wildlife, allows you to eradicate these animals that are invasive. They don’t give you specific directions on how to, they just say as long as it’s humane.”
Some of that confusion has played out in neighborhood disputes, including this one, where woman called police on her neighbor several times.
Woman: “I can hear the rifle going off, so I came out today and I filmed. Here’s my problem I got a four-year-old, OK? She’s not terribly accurate.”
Listen to how heated things got between the woman in question and this responding officer.
Officer on body camera: “You can’t leave them to die like this, it has to be humane. In the city of Fort Lauderdale, you 100% cannot do that. Not even a BB gun, not a pellet gun.”
Woman in question: “I don’t want to be blamed [expletive] and I’m telling you that Fish and Wildlife says. Yeah, cause I have [expletive] friends who work for Fish and Wildlife and we’re getting conflicting [expletive] information.”
In 2019, FWC put out a statement: “Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up. This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘Wild West’.”
In light of the recent worries raised by police, 7Investigates asked the FWC whether they had any new message for the public. We are waiting to hear back.
Karen Hensel, 7News.
For homeowners who cannot safely remove iguanas from their property, the state suggests using a professional trapper.
After the story aired, FWC provided this additional information to 7Investigates:
“We encourage people interested in iguana removal to check with local municipalities prior to using a firearm and pellet gun if they are unsure of the gun laws in their area. The FWC recommends the following actions for wildlife trappers involved in iguana removal: Contacting the appropriate city or county law enforcement agency (non-emergency) to make them aware of where you will be operating; communicating with landowners and receiving permission in advance of conducting iguana removal activities; displaying visible placard on vehicle/vessel that identifies you as a wildlife removal entity; and/or wearing brightly colored identifying clothing.”
“Green iguanas, like all nonnative, invasive species, are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law (Florida Statutes § 828.12). They can be captured and humanely killed on private property at any time with landowner permission. Members of the public may also catch and humanely kill iguanas on 25 Commission-managed public lands without a license or permit required, under Executive Order 20-17. There is an ethical obligation to ensure iguanas and other nonnative species are killed in a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain.”
“Residents not able to safely and humanely remove iguanas from their properties can seek assistance from a professional nuisance wildlife trapper. Trappers must obtain an eradication/control permit to be in temporary possession of live green iguanas. An eradication/control permit will authorize live transport so they can humanely kill captured iguanas off site. Green iguanas were added to Florida’s Prohibited list on April 29, 2021 and people cannot be in possession of live green iguanas without a permit. It is also illegal to release or relocate captured nonnative fish and wildlife, including iguanas (Rule 68-5.001, Florida Administrative Code).”
“We again encourage people interested in iguana removal to check with local municipalities if they are unsure of laws pertaining to pellet guns or firearms in their area. It is the responsibility of the person(s) removing iguanas to conduct their activities in a safe, humane, legal, and ethical manner. It is also important for those removing iguanas to ensure that they have landowner permission where they are removing iguanas.”
For more information on Green Iguanas, click here.
For more information on Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator Search, click here.
For more information on Prohibited Nonnative Species List, click here.
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