Fine Dining May Solve Puerto Rico's Invasive Iguana Problem

By Kiona Smith-Strickland on at

Puerto Rico is overrun with green iguanas, and they’re wreaking havoc on the island’s ecosystem and its economy.

Green iguanas are native to Central and South America, but on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, they’re an invasive species. With no natural predators on the island, their numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, which presents Puerto Rican farmers with a problem: the lizards keep eating their crops. How bad is it? Hunters found 110 iguanas on a single acre of farmland in Puerto Rico.

That’s why some people in Puerto Rico have suggested a creative solution: sell iguana meat as a delicacy.

Iguanas are a common part of local diets in many Central and South American countries, and iguana meat sells for about $6/£4 per 450g in the U.S., where it’s legal to sell as long as it has been processed in an FDA-approved facility. Much of the iguana meat sold in the US, in fact, is from Puerto Rico — where, ironically, the territory’s health department still hasn’t approved it for sale.

That’s mostly because of concerns about salmonella, which iguana proponents say can be prevented with sufficient regulation. Puerto Rican culture is also more averse to eating reptiles than the Central and South American countries where iguanas are a native species, although some activists are trying to change that by promoting iguana as a food.

It seems to be gaining a foothold in the US, at least, according to this video from National Geographic.

What is it like to eat iguana? It’s a lean, high-protein meat, and chefs say it smells like fish, feels like chicken, and looks like red meat, and some diners say it tastes a bit like pork. [National Geographic]

Top image: Christian Mehlführer via Wikimedia Commons