180,000 views. That’s how many views were recorded on a recent post shared from the Facebook page “Florida Keys Iguana Killers Club.” The death threats are usually from ladies in New Jersey or New York with 27 cats and two lizards as pets, according to the page’s founder, Chuck Meier, who has been in the iguana eradication “business” for three or four years now.
“(People who don’t live here) don’t understand that they are an invasive species here,” he said. “I try to explain to them to replace the word ‘iguana’ with ‘rat’ or ‘cockroach,’ but it usually doesn’t sink in, mainly because they are from up north and don’t have an issue with iguanas because they have winters.”
After planting his yard with new plants and spending hundreds of dollars at Home Depot, his wife woke up to see a lone iguana eating the last flower off one of their newly planted trees.
“She lost her proverbial (explicative,)” he said. “She told me I needed to kill every last one of the iguanas in the yard if she was going to be happy, and you know, happy wife, happy life.”
The mid-Texas-raised self-proclaimed “redneck from way back” has been a Key Wester for 25 years and says even four years ago iguana weren’t really that prevalent. Now, they are taking over everything, he said, noting that Puerto Rico, where they are also an invasive species, now has 8 million iguanas to the 4 million people population. “They have expeditions to help with the eradication efforts over there, and it’s needed here, too, or we are going to have the same problem.”
But, he’s not killing them for sport. He’s learned to clean and cook them also. Authoring a sportsman guide to hunting, catching, cleaning and cooking them, “Iguana Killer’s Club,” he explains the process. The book will be out in about a month or so.
“It’s not too hard to clean them,” he said, adding a good starter gun is a break barrel Gamo Whisper air rifle, which is pretty accurate for a backyard enthusiast. “It’s like any small game. It’s a little daunting but with the right technique, they can be skinned easily.” Some countries, like Trinidad, skip the skinning process and cook the animal with the skin on.
He ate his first iguana about two years ago when a Honduran man saw him with his catch. “How much you want for those,” the man asked him. “Whatcha got,” he replied. Four Bud Lights later, the man was showing him the ways of iguana cooking, and got even more excited to see one of the iguanas was egg-bearing.
“Hondurans really like the eggs,” Meier said, adding that the leathery eggs are often served in a picante-like sauce. “They are said to be an aphrodisiac and have medicinal capabilities.”
The Honduran told him to eat one and he’d be “chasing his old lady around the house.” Meier replied with “how about you feed that to my wife instead.”
His wife, although she would prefer a steak, doesn’t mind eating the iguana. Meier explains that the meat is lean with no fat, a lot like chicken, with white meat in the tail, and darker meat around the leg.
When asked if he expects to see iguana pop up on local menus, he said: definitely. “I have given it to a few chefs in town who really liked working with it,” he said. He often has one chef, of Jose’s Latin Food on the corner of Truman and White streets, do iguana night for his friends, prepared Nicaraguan style five different ways from tamale-like to stir-fried, and soups to barbecued.
“South American countries eat it like it’s going out of style,” he said. “We need to get that mentality here, too. It’s technically a renewable resource here, they are so out of control.”
Both chicken and iguana can carry salmonella, so like chicken, according to Meier, as long as proper preparation is heeded, the risks are the same. Cleaning hands and surfaces that the raw meat touches is key to preventing food poisoning.
Legally, iguana, an invasive lizard in the Keys, can be killed humanely. Iguana hunter Chuck Meier prefers a quick kill with a pellet gun headshot, while others prefer trapping and freezing. “I don’t want to see something suffer,” he said. “That’s the hunter in me. I actually like animals more than I probably like people.” CONTRIBUTED