'Aliens' invade Fiji isles

BY MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 08:31 13/11/2011

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Fijians are being called on to take up arms against an invasion by giant scaly "aliens".

The invaders are native South American large green iguanas, believed to have been introduced a decade ago in an attempt to control a bug population.

Now called American iguana, they have no enemies, and are growing up to 1.5m long and nearly 10kg.

Australian scientist Rick Van Veen believes there are around 2500 on four islands and they're proving unstoppable, as they can swim long distances.

"[Without] heavy intervention in the next two years, American iguanas will reach numbers of the tens of thousands and will rapidly expand their current distribution," Van Veen says in a report for Biosecurity Authority Fiji (BAF) and NGO NatureFiji.

They eat plants Fiji people rely on for food and income, particularly taro.

They are known to reach very high densities in some countries.

Van Veen calls for a concentrated effort to eradicate them.

"If dogs and firearms can be obtained, then the sooner the better. The American iguana population is still relatively small but if it remains unchecked it will likely grow exponentially."

BAF earlier this week declared there were no penalties for people who eat the American iguana.

The Fiji Sun said people on the island of Taveuni were eating them, with a chief saying villagers thought it tasted better than chicken and so far no one had suffered after-effects. The tail is reputedly the best part.

But NatureFiji has warned anyone bitten by the reptile is at risk of infection because the its teeth contain salmonella – a bacteria that causes food poisoning if consumed.

A military decree has banned moving iguanas, with a maximum penalty of 15 years' jail.

Fiji has three species of native iguanas, all endangered.

It is feared American iguanas are infected by a fungal disease that could hit native iguanas.

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