Big, green invasive lizards are taking over Florida - crawling into backyards, leaving salmonella-laced poop in hot tubs, destroying property, and undermining roadways and canals. Almost overnight, the job of Florida iguana hunter became both popular and necessary. One enthusiastic sportsman and his trained dog are set on eliminating as many pesky reptiles as possible.
Professional hunter, trapper, and wildlife removal expert Mike Kimmel owns and operates Martin County Trapping & Wildlife Rescue, specializing in removing large or dangerous wildlife pests. One of the creatures he is often tasked with removing is aggressive iguanas.
It's been that way since the iguana population in Florida exploded, and Kimmel, 33, has been hunting them for the past decade.
These non-native pests pose a real problem for the Sunshine State. They destroy commercial and residential landscapes, attacking a variety of crops and young plants, including hibiscus, orchids, and many more. Iguanas are even being blamed for a decline in the overall butterfly population-specifically, the Miami Blue Butterfly, because they voraciously eat the flowering plants that the butterflies depend on for sustenance.
According to Kimmel, iguanas also disrupt the nesting grounds of burrowing owls and gopher tortoises, both native to Florida. Beyond disrupting native populations, iguanas interfere with the government's replanting programs and cause canals to collapse due to their extensive burrowing.
"From the golf courses and public parks to the private homes and canal systems, these invasive iguanas cause big problems," Kimmel said. "The feces and devastation to landscaping is just the tip of the iceberg. The real damage they cause is with the burrows they dig. They can undermine sidewalks, sea walls, housing foundations, roadways, and levee embankments, costing private individuals and the state millions of dollars each year. They also have negative effects on our native wildlife and ecosystems."
Kimmel and Otto, his trained iguana-retrieving German wirehaired pointer, are keeping themselves busy with iguanas, that's for sure.
"Otto and me could-and a lot of times, do-run seven days a week just on iguanas," Kimmel said.
Kimmel also offers guided iguana hunts in Florida's public canals, which are home to tons of lizards. A guided day of iguana hunting costs clients around $1,000. They cull the iguanas using specialized .30 caliber air rifles, which have a limited range, so they are deemed safe to use in urban areas. A guided hunt harvest is typically anywhere from 20 to 50 iguanas, but Kimmel can bag many more in a day if he strictly hunts for nuisance control. His personal best day saw him cull 90 iguanas in one day of hunting.
Most of Florida's invasive iguanas grow between two and four feet, but they can grow larger. The largest Kimmel caught was a whopper: six feet long and 18 pounds.
Kimmel is more than just an iguana hunter. He is also an accomplished python hunter, so much so that he has earned the nickname "The Python Cowboy." Beyond that, he also hunts hogs with his trained dogs. He is an avid dog trainer and utilizes working dogs for many of his hunting jobs.
He may not do the same things hunters did generations ago, but this new world way of harvesting problem animals has turned Kimmel into an outdoor celeb. You can follow along with his adventures as he documents them on his Instagram page @pythoncowboy.
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