Dan Rattiner's Stories

Deer vs. Iguana: Hamptons Deer Problem Beats Iguana Issues

People weep and moan about the deer in the Hamptons. The deer eat all the landscaping, they bring around ticks, they get hit by cars, they wander around on golf courses.

I sometimes think we should count our lucky stars. I have a friend who has just come back from a resort in Puerto Rico and he tells me that the resort, and the next door resort, and, in fact, the entire island are all overrun by iguanas. There are 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico. There are 4 million iguanas. Some of them are five feet long (the iguanas). We are so lucky we are not infested with iguanas.

Count your blessings.

When a car hits a deer, the deer falls to the side of the road and the authorities have to come. They say a little prayer, then cart the deer away. When an iguana gets hit by a car, it explodes. I will not describe how you get that cleaned up.

If you get near to a deer, he freezes. If you get even closer, he bounds off into the woods. If you get near an iguana, he puffs out his body, spreads this tent of flesh that hangs down from his chin, bobs and weaves his head, turns sideways to you and flips his tail this way and that. Then he opens his mouth wide to show his teeth and he flicks his forked tongue.

Nobody knows if deer bite, because nobody gets close enough to find out. Iguana have serrated teeth, and when they bite you—almost always after all this preparation I’ve described above as a warning—they will put you in need of stitches after they are done. Best advice is to let them chomp. It hurts, but soon they stop. It’s the pulling away that causes the tears in your skin. And get tested for salmonella after the bite.

There are dogs in Puerto Rico who have scars on their heads not from being bitten by an iguana but from having been lashed by an iguana’s tail. Puerto Rican dogs instinctively want to attack iguanas but soon learn to think better of it. In the Hamptons, a dog will usually just bark at a deer, which sends the deer off.

Deer are cute and cuddly looking. They are mammals, just like us. They have beautiful eyes with long lashes, wet noses and pointy ears that they can wiggle if excited. You just want to kiss them.

Iguanas are directly out of monster movies. In fact, they are descended from the dinosaurs. They are reptiles with cold eyes, scaly skin and sharp eagle-like claws, and they can breathe fire— although nobody has ever seen this. You don’t want to kiss them. You want to, if only you’d have brought a gun, shoot them.

Deer are silent. They say nothing. They run this way and that, very gracefully and very fast. They have cloven hoofs, adorable little tails and a soft coat of fur. On a golf course, a deer will be polite. But an iguana will run down a golf ball and eat it—which as we know, results in a penalty of stroke and distance.

Iguanas hiss. They make jerky motions when they walk, and they are awkward and ungainly. They can sometimes get up a burst of speed for a moment, something that can be frightening in and of itself. They can also show up at night in your bedroom and, up on your wall, scare the hell out of you, which, when you scream, makes them wriggle away. Deer wouldn’t be caught dead in anybody’s bedroom. They are too well mannered for that.

Deer look at trees and, if they are tall enough, can get up on their hind legs to nibble the leaves from low branches. Iguanas, 20 at a time, climb trees, usually to get away from a perceived danger. They will eat the leaves and also the bugs up there. They will destroy the birds’ nests and eat the eggs. Sometimes, in Puerto Rico, you can look at a tree and think what you are seeing is a large display of grey leaves. Turns out it is 40 iguanas hanging out, shoulder to shoulder, basking in the sun.

People put up wire deer fences in the Hamptons eight feet tall and the deer can jump over them, as gracefully as thoroughbred horses. It makes you want to cry. In Puerto Rico, an iguana will simply climb up and over a fence, even high ones. You can’t keep iguanas out.

Deer are pretty easy to capture. Hit them with a dart from a dart gun, they go to sleep and fall over sideways. Shoot a dart at an iguana and it just bounces off his thick scaly hide.

You can use a long stick with a pull lasso to capture an iguana by the neck, but half the time he ducks back out so you have to do it again. And even if you’ve got him good, it’s a goddamn iguana.

Deer are too shy to bother a picnic at the beach. Iguanas, sometimes several of them, will come over to a picnic on the beach and hang around hoping to get something, will ignore humans who ask them to leave, and only pay attention if humans shout at them and wave their arms aggressively. Then they shrug their shoulders, say oh well, and leave.

You can be swimming in the ocean and an iguana will swim by, just below the surface, at about 10 miles an hour. They swim to shore and march up the beach.

Deer will not willingly go in the ocean, but if they fall in, they can splash around and often get people to rescue them, or, if lucky, get back to shore on their own.

Deer herds have never eaten the wires to shut down a power grid, closed down airport runways until they can be cleared off with snowplows, or burrowed under dikes to cause leaks. Iguanas in Puerto Rico have done all of the above.

Deer are very neat while nibbling landscaping. Iguanas make a huge mess, mostly by swishing their tails, leaving corncobs, crushed tomatoes, beer cans and other effluvia. Others have to clean up the mess left behind.

Iguanas are very smart. I’ve seen videos of people in Puerto Rico with pet iguanas who call them and they come. If you make friends with an iguana, he’ll let you pet him like a dog and you’ll know he likes it because he comes back for more. Then you can’t get him to stop. Deer aren’t that smart. They come. They go. They exhibit two different emotions: 1. Fear. 2. No emotion.

There are good things about iguanas—a few, anyway. People in primitive societies think that eating iguana steak is an aphrodisiac and increases sexual desire. Others rub oil from iguana meat on their skin to cure rheumatism and heal bruises. Some people in primitive societies eat iguana in a stew. They consider it a delicacy. I think that is all the good things about an iguana.

If a chamber of commerce buys a full-color ad promoting the Hamptons that has a deer in a potato field looking proudly at you, you might be enticed to come.

If a chamber of commerce in Puerto Rico buys a full-color ad that shows an iguana in a field looking at you, you will want to grab your kids and run for your lives.

Just remember this: A giant iguana could star in a movie called It Came to Conquer the Earth. If a giant deer starred in that movie, nobody would come.

Thank goodness we do not suffer from iguanas. Love a deer and live long.

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