Puerto Rico Job Plan: Hunt Iguanas, Sell Their Meat


Puerto Rico will soon allow people to hunt down iguanas and sell their meat. Interested hunters can earn up to $6 per pound of iguana flesh, which would be processed and then exported to the United States. Unlike Florida, which strictly limits hunting Burmese pythons, Republican Gov. Luis Fortuno sees the iguanas as a source for new jobs: "It is a way to generate self-employment."

With over 4 million iguanas on the island, they actually outnumber humans in Puerto Rico. These reptiles first came to the island as exotic pets, and were released into the wild by pet owners in the 1970s. But with no natural predators, the iguana population has blossomed. Puerto Rico's Department of Natural Resources and Environment banned importing iguanas in 2004, but their numbers kept growing.

Now these lugubrious lizards have become massive pests, causing blackouts by burrowing under electric plants and unsettling building foundations. Iguanas have even created flight delays, costing $80,000 annually to remove them from San Juan's airport. (Ironically, many iguana species are vulnerable or endangered throughout most of Latin America.)

Fortunately, iguana is a fairly common ingredient in many Latin American countries, earning the nickname, gallinas de palo, or "chicken of the tree." There's even a cookbook of iguana recipes. The author, George Cera, has personally killed over 16,000 iguanas in Boca Grande, Florida, often shooting them from a golf cart.

Iguana meat isn't quite legal in the United States. Last year, U.S. Customs officials seized over 200 pounds of tree chicken, worth $6,000, from two different individuals. Both were charged with violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Lacey Act.

Ronald Bailey on invasive species. For more on culinary freedom, be sure to check out Keep Food Legal  and its founder, Baylen Linnekin. And here's Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch with Gov. Fortuno for Reason.tv: