Iguana: In Puerto Rico, It’s What’s for Dinner

Authorities are planning to deal with their infestation of iguanas by exporting the meat to other countries -- where the lizard is a protected species.

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Oswaldo Rivas / Reuters

An iguana crawls on a tree in Nicaragua.

One man’s pest can sometimes be another’s delicacy. And when that happens, there’s opportunity — both to rid the pest and make some money in the process.

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Puerto Rico is currently struggling with an infestation of iguanas — an invasive species first brought over as pets that now number at least four million, more than the island’s human population. The iguanas have been devouring vegetation and disrupting everything from power lines to the local airports, where flights are often delayed while crews clear wandering lizards from the runways. Meanwhile, other Central American countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua have started protecting the species — which are being hunted out of existence for their supposed medicinal properties (or in some cases just as a popular entree).

The government has already declared open season on hunting the repiles and as the Wall Street Journal explains, authorities in the U.S. territory believe there’s job-making potential in a new plan to export the iguana to countries where it’s a threatened species.

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One Puerto Rican iguana exporter—whose rent is subsidized by the government—has already emerged. According to the Journal, Jose Luis Monge, founder of Best Iguana Puerto Rico Meat, now has 600 lizards — which can grow up to six feet long and weigh up to 20 lbs. —  kept in pens behind his slaughterhouse. He hopes to eventually export 2,000 pounds of iguana meat a week.

There’s a healthy appetite for iguana. Just not in Puerto Rico.

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