The Iguana Huntress

In the parking lot at Matheson Hammock Park at 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, 20-year-old Selene Cohen is using a 45-pound bow to shoot arrows at a makeshift cardboard target that leans against a tree. The sky is threatening rain. "One thing about iguanas," she says, "they only come out when there is sun." A light drizzle quickly becomes a torrential downpour as Riptide joins her in a run for cover.

According to the weather report, which we listen to in her gray 1997 Hyundai, the storm is moving south. Cohen decides to drive to the north campus of Florida International University. As we cruise up Biscayne Boulevard, she explains, "I Googled iguana hunting. There is YouTube footage [showing] natives in Tobago hunting and cooking them." She flicks a cigarette out the window. "A man right here in Florida made a gas chamber in his garage to kill them."

Cohen views the lizards as ubiquitous and dangerous pests. "They keep multiplying and spreading," she says. In fact, in an effort to deal with the exploding numbers of iguanas in the Florida Keys, Monroe County commissioners recently asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to enact rules that would prohibit people from releasing the reptiles into the wild.

"They are very territorial, and they attack children," she adds. "I intend to kill them as quickly and painlessly as possible." And then eat them. Although she hasn't bagged one yet, a friend has. "Iguana stew with roasted Muscovy duck is delicious."

At FIU, next to a large lake near the Marine Biology Lab, a dozen or so iguanas of all colors and sizes sunbathe in the grass. Cohen takes the black hard-shell bow and arrow case from the trunk of her car.

A small crowd gathers to watch her creep up on one of the lounging lizards. As she draws her bow, someone shrieks, "Why are you going to shoot that iguana?" Cohen ignores the plea and releases the arrow.

"She says she's gonna eat it," someone responds. The iguana begins bobbing its head up and down ferociously. Cohen picks up another arrow, and fires away.

She misses, just nicking the reptile on the side of its neck. A security guard in uniform appears. "You can't do this here," he says. "We have student animal rights groups." Cohen shoots the arrow anyway, this time puncturing the iguana's neck.

While the reptile lies, stunned, a campus police car pulls up and two armed officers step out. Cohen puts down the bow.

"There are no laws regarding hunting iguanas," says one of the officers, "but FIU is private property. We cannot let you take this iguana off the premises until you get permission from the general counsel."

The second officer is more firm. "We cannot condone or allow the activity of hunting iguanas on our property," he says. But, he reiterates, the university's legal department "might be able to give permission to kill one of them." (Riptide later left a message for the school's counsel, who didn't call back.)

With a gaping wound on its neck, the iguana suddenly comes to its senses. It turns around, jumps into the lake, and swims away.

Riptide asks Cohen if perhaps she didn't really want to kill the creature after all.

"They are reptilian rodents," she says. "Of course I wanted to kill it."

"I intend to kill them as quickly and painlessly as possible. Iguana stew with roasted Muscovy duck is delicious."

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Jason Handelsman

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