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
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.
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.
B A C K -
and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short