Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Iguanas Take Over Florida Atlantic University Campus

By: John Hallihan

Watch out burrowing owls, wild iguanas are rapidly becoming the most recognizable and widespread wild life on Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus.

Students and faculty at FAU have been observing the iguana population’s increase for some time now. Most students are unaccustomed to seeing the large numbers of iguanas and some, driven by this fascination, take souvenir photos of the creatures using camera phones.

“They’re taking over,” said Victoria Hammond, an FAU sophomore, “They look like scary little dinosaurs.”

The invading iguanas can be found lounging in a variety of locations on the Boca Campus, but they have staked their main claim in and around the retention ponds surrounding the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, the Dorothy F. Schmidt Visual Arts Building, and Parking Garage II. Some students said they have seen over 30 iguanas sunbathing at a given time or munching on the lawn.

So far FAU has no written policies in regard to the iguanas found on campus.

"These are wild animals," said Frank Woodward, hazardous materials maintenance manager in the environmental and safety department at FAU. “We have no more control over [the iguanas] than we do the raccoons that come on campus, or the snakes and insects or anything else out there in nature,” said Woodward.

Unlike FAU’s proud mascot, the burrowing owls, iguanas are not native to Florida.

“They are a result of the exotic pet trade that has become prevalent in South Florida,” said Kyla Makela, director of education at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale. After buying the trendy pet, people intentionally released the iguanas after they grow larger than the owner preferred or the iguanas accidentally escape into the wild.

Once in the wild, the iguanas adapt well to Florida’s subtropical climate and multiply. Since iguanas are not part Florida’s natural ecosystem there are no natural predators to control the increasing population, according to Makela.

As the iguana population rises at FAU, the animals have become increasingly larger in size as well.

“I’ve never seen an iguana that big before,” said Zoe Ramos, an FAU sophomore. “I’ve also seen them jump out of trees, which was something new,” Ramos said.

Though in the eyes of an onlooker, it appears the creature’s size and numbers are escalating, they remain intimidating yet welcome guests at FAU. “Some people don't much care for iguanas eating their flowers and leaving feces behind. Other people enjoy having the prehistoric looking lizards around,” said Jeanette Wyneken, Ph.D., Associate Professor of biological sciences at FAU.

Iguanas are not listed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a species of special concern (Florida Administrative Code [F.A.C.] 68A-27.005), like the burrowing owl is. However, they are protected by Florida anti-cruelty laws.

“It is a felony to harm an iguana in any way,” Makela said.

If FAU administrators are so inclined, the university could hire a trapper to remove and terminate the iguanas, providing the opportunity for new iguanas to claim their turf. Since these resident lizards pose no threat to students or faculty, and the university is suffering from the current recession, the iguana’s costly removal seems unnecessary and unlikely. It appears these docile reptiles will remain FAU’s second mascot.