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Spate of firecracker attacks on Taiwan's invasive iguanas sparks alarm

Helen Davidson in Taipei
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

A spate of cruelty towards invasive iguanas in Taiwan including stuffing firecrackers in the reptiles’ mouths or shooting them with bows and arrows has prompted animal rights groups to call for a government crackdown.

The Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (East) said local and provincial government campaigns to encourage community involvement in controlling the spread of introduced species lacked guidelines, resulting in “a chaotic free-for-all at the expense of the welfare of the targeted animals”.

East said the government had delegated pest control responsibilities to local authorities, some of which had implemented plans which were not “thought through”.

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Some campaigns offered food and cash bounties for citizens who kill green iguanas and brown anoles, a type of lizard. East said one 2017 cash bounty scheme was fully subscribed within a day and had no verification process, prompting concerns people were breeding animals to collect the payment.

Social media posts of hunters’ hauls have shown iguanas that were shot with bows and arrows, sliced open while conscious, or had limbs taped to the side of their bodies and firecrackers set off inside their mouths. Iguana meat is currently for sale by individuals on e-commerce sites.

“The problem they cause [with the current situation] is there are people who aren’t familiar with animal behaviour and can’t tell native species from non-native species which look alike,’” said a researcher for the organisation, Hsin-Yuan Chang. “There’s no help or conservation work. Also the methods they use are not humane, and don’t consider animal welfare.”

Green iguanas are a highly invasive species in Taiwan, blamed for damaging crops, forcing out native species, and eroding canals with their tunnels. In 2020 the council of agriculture said the population had increased 27-fold in the last five years. It attributed the boom to the 2001 legalisation of their importation and sale as pets, some of which were then released into the wild. Importation was banned again in 2015.

Lin Shu-fen, a legislator with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said: “While population management of non-native invasive species plays an important role in protecting biodiversity, animal removal should that take into account animal welfare, promote conservation values, and avoid conveying anti-social messages.”

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Chang said the forestry and fisheries departments had begun training employees in proper removal, but new laws were needed to give them the power to ban citizens from carrying out their own removals.

“What we demand the government do is use formal research about the target species, and have experts train personnel to implement the plans. Only trained professionals should be able to do the removal work,” said Chang, adding that East and Lin also wanted to see a ban on by-products like meat and leather, which could have carry public health risks.

Lo Yu-chuan, head of the forestry bureau’s conservation division, told local media there were rules on humane removal of non-native species, but they had not been made public. Lo said the government would consider publishing the rules, and discussing whether it was appropriate for local authorities to offer bounties. Animal welfare officials said they would investigate any acts of cruelty, which carried jail terms.