As a huge lizard crossed the road in front of his car on February 11, Molokai Dispatch reporter Adam Bencze thought nothing of it. But three days later when the newcomer, Bencze, finally discovered large lizards are not endemic to Hawaii, he quickly called Lori Buchanan of The Nature Conservancy.
Bencze described the lizard as “bright green, probably a foot and a half long with spikes down the back of its head and moving pretty quickly.” He guessed the animal was probably an iguana.”
By the time the conservancy was notified, and with a large area to search, no traces of the reptile had been found.
Members of the public are asked to keep watch when walking in the region between Papohaku Beach and upland slopes. Though not usually considered dangerous, iguanas can be aggressive, territorial and can move faster than people. They can grow to six feet in length, have pointed teeth, sharp claws, and hormonal rushes.
Buchanan noted that the reptile was likely an exotic pet which had escaped from its enclosure or purposefully released by its owner. With female iguanas laying up to 30 eggs at a time, surviving easily and breeding in the wild, the sighting is a cause for concern.
Iguanas disrupt the ecosystem by competing with native species for resources, and becoming predators of species which have no mechanisms to adapt. Feral populations have been previously discovered in Hawaii and are known to disturb bird’s nests, often feeding on the eggs.
It is illegal to possess or transport iguanas in Hawaii; people who are discovered with the exotic pets could face fines of up to $200,000 and three years in prison. However, anyone who voluntarily surrenders illegal animals is granted immunity from prosecution under the Department of Agriculture’s Amnesty program.
Anyone wishing to relinquish animals is urged to call Lori Buchanan of The Nature Conservancy at 553 5236, extension 204. No questions shall be asked. Buchanan can also be contacted to report any sightings.