By Luis Chaluisan
Iguanas: they’re not common pets in New Jersey, thank the power, even though people occasionally decide this exotic (as in non-native) animal would make a great pet. It’s not so. Iguanas belong in their native habitat, where they have the company of other iguanas, the right temperature and food, and the chance to be an iguana “au naturel.”
Caribbean tourist attraction
During a recent vacation in the Caribbean, I saw lots of iguanas, which made it easy for me to continue to be fascinated by them – their myriad colors, especially the bright green of young ones; their long ring-tails; their front feet, especially, with long, curving finger-like appendages; their casual ability to “go out on a limb,” seeking a flower or a tender green leaf at the end of a branch that looks incapable of holding them.
And, these kids can travel too! If they need to get away, they can do it. They’re not graceful, but they’re fast.
Far from eating red hibiscus flowers in St. Thomas was the iguana I met years ago in Ewing, NJ. That poor guy lived alone in a glass tank in a store. What a life: a caged curiosity shoppers could look at. Weekends when the store was closed had to be worst for that iguana – not even any gawkers.
Here are a few “fun facts” about iguanas from information I’ve accumulated over years of watching them.
- In the Family Iguanidae, they’re a kind of lizard, and lizards are reptiles. Lizards have what their snake relatives lack: ears, eyelids, four legs. Their lizard tongues serve as both organs of taste and odor detection.
- Tropical, omnivorous, arboreal, quiet and diurnal (daylight creatures; inactive in dark), iguanas can weigh 25-30 pounds and grow to six feet or more – mostly tail. They have pointy scales along their back and males have dewlap. Life span: about 20 years.
- Iguanas may forage and bask in groups. They love to bathe, swimming like snakes with legs against their bodies. To elude enemies, they can stay under water for about 30 minutes.
Just before coming home, I was disturbed to see a sad story in the Virgin Islands Daily News about iguanas. The government of Puerto Rico plans to capture and kill them, then sell their meat. Reason(s): iguanas are not native to that island (even thought elsewhere in the Caribbean, they’re a protected species); they outnumber the human population . . . and (believe it or not) the bad economy makes the idea appealing.
So now Puerto Rico’s looking for a company to “process” iguanas that would be hunted or trapped and kept alive for the slaughtering process. As I see it, PR aims to treat iguanas the way “food animals” are treated here in the US and everywhere else factory farming takes place. Horrible.
Then again, I’m not too surprised. Only a few years ago, Puerto Rico earned notoriety for killing hundreds of pets – cats and dogs – in the most barbaric way.
Now the island is “moving right along” with iguanas, apparently no more enlightened, or compassionate, than before.
Luis Chaluisan is a contributing writer to PRSUN. He is the editor in chief of salsamagazine.com.