You have probably already read my notes on Iguana iguana in previous sections. Here I want to look not at the problem of keeping individual iguanas in captivity but the problem of iguanas in the pet trade. Basically there are two facets of this problem:
The very strength of the green iguana is its disadvantage. Put simply, it looks so good that everyone who has ever dreamed about owning a lizard (or perhaps a pet dinosaur?) immediately thinks of an iguana. Their appearance, and their known intelligence, makes them very desireable until you know the true facts about keeping one. Unfortunately very few beginners do, at least until they buy a reasonable book that lists these difficulties. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, when confronted by an attractive little juvenile or hatchling iguana, it's easy to somehow mentally blank out the future. A little creature like this won't take much looking after, will it? (After all, kittens and puppies don't get that much bigger as adults, so why should a baby lizard?). Somehow it's easy, in the heat of the moment and the irresistibility of that baby ig's appearance, to kid yourself that in three or four years you really will move into a bigger house (and not have a larger family), or that you will persuade your spouse or family to let you have an 8ft-long vivarium in the front room, displacing some of the other furniture.... It's also easy to forget that they need humidity, reasonably high temperatures and a varied diet every day, or that males get extremely aggressive in the mating season and can sense when a woman is entering her menstrual cycle (I've witnessed the latter phenomenon myself - the iguana begins to turn orange around the head).
All these potential problems, sadly, add up to a very common scenario: two or three years after purchasing a baby iguana, the owning party decides he/she/they can no longer keep it. Either it's too active, or it's too big, or, worst of all, they're bored with it. Having a small dinosaur in your house isn't quite the cute Flintstone-type scenario that they envisaged. So somehow Iggy has to be sold, rehomed, given away or, in the last resort, got rid of somehow. If you think that sounds melodramatic, the curator of Beaver Water World, the reptile sanctuary in Kent, told me that one of the green iguanas in her care was found walking down an English High Street. One can only marvel that it survived. The same lady informs me regularly that there is a waiting list of green iguanas waiting for a place in the sanctuary. Last week, I saw one in a local pet shop that had been taken in, in a terrible condition, after being found abandoned outside a railway station in January. In the USA, which is thousands of miles closer to the home of the Green Iguana and which has regions with climate that are far more amenable to the lizard, the situation is even worse, with thousands of these iguanas being abandoned each year. In a bizarre twist to the tale, there are now actually feral populations of Iguana iguana in Florida and other parts of the South. While one rejoices that these individual igs have managed to survive and even prosper, it says a lot about human irresponsibility when it comes to releasing non-native animals into the local environment.
With all of the above, you might expect that, supply having exceeded demand, the import of iguanas, captive-raised or otherwise, might have been decreasing. Unhappily this is not so. To the best of my awareness there are still thousands of iguanas, mostly babies, imported from Central and South America each year. While suffering perhaps less badly than Asian or African imported animals, their conditions are still far from optimal, and the worst part of their voyage is often at the receiving end when being kept in holding pens, where they are stressed out and sometimes kept in filthy conditions. Meanwhile the indigenous populations of the animal in Central America are under threat thanks to this over-collecting for the pet trade and the use of the green iguana for food by the local human populace. Neither of these itself would constitute a threat to the green iguana: in fact, properly managed farming of iguanas might benefit both the reptiles and the natives, just as the reintroduction of certain pig breeds into farms in this country would increase their numbers and allow a controlled but thriving population. Unfortunately the present situation falls between two stools and benefits nobody, least of all the iguanas themselves.
What can be done? There have been various suggestions for dealing with the problem of the green iguana. Some solutions have been offered by animal welfare organisations and bodies, some, like a total ban on iguana imports, by animal rights organisations, who admittedly have their own agenda. For what it's worth, I offer some suggestions below:
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