A Cruel Trade

I knew something surreptitious, illegal or evil was going on. The men had a shifty look in their eyes, and disappeared along with their contraband as soon as a motorcycle policeman approached, stuffing the small packets into their shirts and walking off in different directions. The items they were selling appeared to be little white bags of something about an inch long, tied in a line six to a string. The men were touting their product on a busy street-corner in Cartagena's Centro district in broad daylight. By staking out the street corners, they had options of escape as well as unimpeded views of approaching police, since all streets in Centro are one-way. They called out with a muffled cry of what my imperfect grasp of the sellers' costeño accent originally interpreted as "...algo marijuana.. algo marijuana..." But it wasn't marijuana. It wasn't even a drug. It was something much more cruel...

These men with the suspicious demeanor were actually saying "...huevos de iguana... - iguana eggs. Not only are the unborn of these endangered animals plundered, but to ensure a supply of soft and edible eggs, the pregnant females are trapped and then sliced open, their eggs stripped from their bodies and then their carcasses tossed aside. The Colombian Government has outlawed this cruel and barbaric business, legislating up to 7 years prison and fines to the value of 300 minimum monthly salaries, and sponsored a poster campaign denouncing the trade - two years ago Cartagena was plastered with graphic colour posters of a disemboweled lizard. But the cruel trade continues, partly due to the demand for the product - believed by the locals to be an aphrodesiac and health food - and partly due to people's ignorance and poor policing.

Recent articles in local newspapers have reported that some 18 million eggs are harvested from 600,000 female iguanas every season in Colombia's Caribbean coast alone. 95% of these poor creatures are killed by being cut open then left to die. Some misguided egg-harvesters think they are being humane by squeezing the eggs out of the living mothers, but - should the lizard survive at all - this invariably leaves the the lizard sterile for the rest life. As Álvaro Diazgranados, Director of the Colombian conservation organization DADAMA points out, the eggs are not an aphrodesiac and neither are they good for you since they contain high amounts of cholesterol, streptococcal bacteria and pesticide residues. DADAMA has lauched a renewed public education campaign to try and halt the iguana's rapid march towards annihilation. Posters, stickers and information packets have been printed, and an audiovisual presentation for schoolchildren prepared. A mobile van will travel the areas worst affected by the iguana hunters, staging symbolic releases of the docile green reptiles, trying to save them from a fate worse than death... extinction as a species.

Posted 20th Feb 2002.Photo and story copyright of Glen David Short. His adventure travelogue, `An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by bus and boat through Mexico and Central America' is available from Trafford Publishing.

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Text and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short