The Ronquillo Family’s Mission: Rid Coral Gables of Iguanas
The inspiration behind Michael Ronquillo’s company, “Humane Iguana Control,” hit him about five years ago. Ronquillo, who previously worked at the city’s Public Works Department for a decade, had turned to landscaping as a profession. After installing some $6,000 worth of plants in a waterfront home, iguanas demolished most of his work in less than a week. “The owner had a guy who was supposed to control the iguanas but did a bad job of it. I gave him a price to get rid of them. He agreed, and I just ran with it.”
Since then, Ronquillo has removed some 3,000 iguanas from homes in Coral Gables, many of them from waterfront properties in Cocoplum, Gables Estates, and along the Coral Gables Waterway. “The Gables is really highly infested because lots of the properties are surrounded by water,” says Ronquillo. “Iguanas can swim through the canals, and if they see a house with colorful landscaping, they will be attracted to that…. Their favorite plants are bougainvillea, hibiscus, and annuals… basically anything that is flowering.”
Ronquillo’s company also removes other pests, from racoon and opossums to bees and snakes, but the focus is on the destructive lizard that destroys plants, defecates in pools, and digs burrows to lay eggs. “We get calls for those [other species] once in a while, but the iguanas are the biggest problem in South Florida,” says Ronquillo. “They hurt our native species. For example, they eat the plants that the Miami blue butterflies need [to reproduce]. They go into the burrows of the Burrowing Owl, destroy the owl eggs, and lay their own. They also hurt the gopher tortoise.”
The iguana infestation of Coral Gables and South Florida has been decades in the making, beginning with their introduction as long ago as the 1960s, mostly from pet owners releasing them in the wild. “Most came through the pet trade from Latin America, released by pet owners who didn’t know how to deal with them,” says Ronquillo, especially when the reptiles grew from their four-inch size at birth to their adult size of up to six-feet-long.
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When Ronquillo started his company, he sat down with his fiancé Michelle and researched the problem and its solutions. “We spoke about it together and we studied it. We thought, ‘We are actually helping the environment, our ecosystem.’ It’s just a great cause,” he says. “We decided together this is the business we wanted to do.”
For fees that start at $220, Ronquillo and his wife will remove iguanas using traps, nooses, and what he calls ‘hand capture’ — “That’s when they are in bush. We sneak up on them and grab them. My wife and I do it together. She’s wild; she just grabs them.” They also do removal at night, when the iguanas are sleeping in the trees at client’s homes.
Because iguanas are an invasive species, it is against the law in Miami-Dade County to relocate them. “They have to be euthanized,” says Ronquillo. “We do it humanely, so that they don’t suffer. That is the part of the job we hate, but we still have to do it.”
That, fortunately, is not the case with bee removal. “Bees are super important to our ecological systems,” says Ronquillo. “We get a lot of phone calls for bees, and we just relocate the hives. We know different beekeepers. They keep them on the land in Homestead.”
Need professional iguana hunters to show up at your door? Contact Humane Iguana Control at 305.200.9821 or visit them at humaneiguanacontrol.com.