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Atlantic Documentaries

The Iguana King

May 01, 2020 | 103 videos
Video by The Atlantic

The population of green iguanas in Florida has grown rapidly in the past decade. The reptiles are not native to the state and were likely introduced through the pet trade, having either escaped from or been intentionally released by their owners. Warming temperatures across the state have allowed the species to thrive in the wild.

At the same time, iguanas are growing in popularity for another reason—their taste. Iguana is a popular dish in Central America and the Caribbean, whose immigrants comprise some of the fastest-growing populations in the state.

But the iguana boom has had consequences. The reptiles dig holes to lay their eggs, leading to erosion, and often wreaking havoc on South Florida’s many manicured lawns and golf courses. They’re also thought to spread salmonella to pets.
Iguanas now occupy a strange space in the psyche of Floridians. They are at once a sought-after pet, a destructive pest, and a delicacy. This notoriety has birthed a cottage industry of iguana enthusiasts who are able to exploit these differences. Iguana trappers can arbitrage the species between those who want them off their property and those who want them displayed in a terrarium or prepared for a dish.

In this short documentary, The Atlantic follows an iguana hunter who has found yet another revenue stream for flipping iguanas: YouTube. The Iguana King is a window into a future of conservation driven by profitability and search-engine optimization.

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Authors: Nicolas Pollock, Brianna Pressey

About This Series

Original short documentaries produced by The Atlantic