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Dec 5, 2003

Hotel helps save iguanas

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The Green Iguana is one of the most heavily hunted reptiles in Belize. It is mostly caught or killed when the mother is full of eggs or with her young ones. Because the animal is strictly vegetarian, many people consider it a fine food source, so fine that the green iguana is becoming endangered. But today News 5 spoke with some people who are making the green iguana’s survival their pet project.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Because there is no management plan in place to conserve the reptile, its survival is threatened. In 1995, the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre held a workshop to encourage hoteliers in the eco-tourism business to do what they can to conserve the green iguana. Well, the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is one of the very few town establishments that can boasts that it shares its property with reptiles, birds, and a wide variety of plant life. It seemed natural for the hotel’s staff and management to take on the challenge.

Marian Roberson, Managing Dir., San Ignacio Resort Hotel

“It was a positive move in the direction of creating an activity on site, rather than your normal tours to go away from site. It gave us the opportunity to get people to-you can be in a hotel, be five minutes down town, you can be entertained at night, and then a five minute walk out of your room and you’re in jungle.”

In the past eight years, the hotel’s staff has cleared trails through its seventeen acres of thick vegetation. The paths lead you to a rare site created in the middle of the rainforest. It is called The Green Iguana Exhibit and built to breed the reptiles in captivity. The project manager is Martin Velasquez.

Martin Velasquez, Project Manager

“In this part of the exhibit we have the juvenile iguanas. They are only about five months and a couple weeks old. So far they have almost tripled in size, compared to the size from when they were hatched. They have mostly blue towards the dewlap are and towards the face. They need quite a bit of heat and warmth for them to have energy and to continue feeding. Here in this exhibit we actually have a lot of bromeliads and orchids, and so they tend to use this more as a canopy. We place a variety of fresh fruits such as a dish like this with leaves. A lot of chaya is one of the things we put in, papaya leaves, spinach, we put in some ficus leaves and this is more or less the diet that the iguana would tend to like out in the forest.”

The iguanas are expected to be released next year in an effort to repopulate the riverbanks of Belize. The hotel’s managing director, Marian Roberson, says it was not easy establishing such a project in a developed community.

Marian Roberson

“It’s been an original access for the towns people through the jungle to get to the river, and so that has been one of our biggest threats in the past. But we’re turned it to be positive. It’s been eight years, although we’ve had some threatened…they come in and take the eggs, or they get into the enclosure, mostly kids, but what we’ve done with that is that we’ve turned it around into something positive and we’ve taken those same children and created what we call the Iguana Kids Club.”

Equally fascinating is the medicinal jungle trail that gives you another interesting account of life in the west of the country.

Jacqueline Woods

“The trail runs along the lower Macal Valley in the Cayo District. The walk is about half and hour long, but along the route you get to see different species of plants that people in the area use for medicinal purposes.”

Medicinal plants like the well-known serosi.

Martin Velasquez

“It’s known throughout the country as a blood tonic. So for people who are very weak, who have been ill for a long time, whose blood is very low and need to build up the iron, then this is one that you take the tea. It’s boiled for five to ten minutes and you take it regularly, everyday, for two weeks and then you begin to feel a lot better.”

Those who assisted in developing the trail were given a certificate of appreciation this morning. If you would like to view the Green Iguana exhibit and medicinal tour, you can call the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

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