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52 Story by Marcy Shortuse, photographs from the Boca Beacon archives One of the urban legends as to why there are so many black spiney-tailed iguanas on Gasparilla Island may have finally been solved. After years of speculation, one man has stepped forward to admit that he did, indeed, set the lizards loose some three decades ago. That man is Bumps Johnson. And he may not be alone. Johnson confessed several years ago at a historical society meeting that while his wayward iguanas may have been the first to roam free on the island, they may not have been the last to be turned out to pasture. “There were lots of people back then who had iguanas,” said Bumps’ wife, Janell. “We weren’t the only ones.” Johnson explained that in his travels to Mississippi first, then to Mexico, he started accumulating the lizards for his grandson, Keith. When Keith’s father, Johnny, was transferred, the iguanas were not welcome so the young boy asked his grandfather to watch out for them. “I took care of them that first day, then let them loose,” Bumps said. “I hear that all the time, that I was the one. But there was probably more than just me.” Gasparilla Island’s iguana problem started becoming noticeable in the 1970s. In 2005 islanders packed the Boca Grande Community Center for a town hall-style meeting on the iguana issue. At that meeting, Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes suggested that a special taxing district within Boca Grande be created to raise money to control the lizards. From that suggestion the Boca Grande “Iguana Tax” advisory board, also known as a Municipal Services Taxing/Benefits Units, was created. At that time, a researcher from Florida Gulf Coast University speculated that anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 iguanas called Boca Grande home. A trapper was hired to “take care of ” the problem. The man who took on the task had no idea what he was getting into, not only with the number of iguanas being much higher than originally anticipated, but because of death threats that were coming from as far away as Europe. Iguana lovers everywhere were not happy with the thought of their favorite reptiles being so dramatically exterminated. The man who took on the task is capable of a clean shot from 100 yards with a .22, shooting at a target the size of a fist ... or an iguana head. The skittish animals seem to have a second sense when it comes to being hunted, but their skills are nothing in comparison to George Cera’s, a man whose eyes have been trained to ferret out the slightest movement in the flora of Boca Grande. Cera has studied iguanas, had them as pets, and become more acquainted with their habits than almost anyone else alive. He can, quite literally, think like an iguana. In 2005, island leaders realized the lizards had grown from a nuisance to a big problem. When Bumps Johnson saying “I let them go.”


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