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Apr 7, 2006

Conservationists: Iguana delicacy threatening species

Story PictureBelize’s reputation as a connoisseur of exotic delicacies is well known … with the royal rat story at the top of the list. But tonight News Five takes a look at another popular local dish: the iguana, also known as bamboo chicken. The reptile is plentiful this time of the year, but conservationists worry that our supply might run dry. It’s the typical debate that surrounds all natural resources and as News Five’s Karla Vernon discovered today, one with supporters on both sides.

Sterling Moody, Iguana hunter
?We catch them, we have to run them down fi catch dem. Lotta work, right. You have to be good. You can?t be slow, you have to sharp.? (laughs)

Karla Vernon, Reporting
Every this time of the year, iguana hunters hit the riverbanks, bringing their catch to the public from the highway and market stalls.

The iguanas are trussed up and often their nails are pulled out and the tendons underneath stretched and tied together. The animals are kept alive until sold and butchered. The practice is often criticised by conservationists, but for Sterling Moody, this is business.

Karla Vernon
?Do you ever notice problems with supply? Do you go back and there maybe it?s less than last year, or are there always iguanas??

Sterling Moody
?Well, it got wa season, so maybe for a few months and then they stop til next year again, about the same time again.?

?Right now I got roughly about ten. We got about ten dollars each a head.?

Moody says customers prefer the females.

Sterling Moody
?That dah the right one fi eat, because she got in eggs.?

A live iguana fetches anywhere between ten and twenty dollars. That?s a lot more than bamboo chicken sold for when John Alexander Walter was a youth in Monkey River.

John Alexander Watler
?I was at Lynam and you know, money was kinda tight. So I got off a week and I went to Monkey River, caught one hundred and fifty iguanas, sold them to pay my school fees for the whole year and had fun doing it.?

Karla Vernon
?How much were they selling for then??

John Alexander Watler
?A dollar or seventy five cents for the small ones.?

Watler says rural communities consume iguana and their eggs year round, not just at Easter time.

John Alexander Watler
?The eggs are cooked along with the iguanas, along with the meat. The traditional way that we cook iguana is in coconut milk and you let it boil down to the oil. When it gets down to the oil, it?s delicious. But you have to know what time to put the eggs in there … and when you do that you get a good meal.?

But the delicacy does leave a bad taste in the mouth of people like coordinators of The ?Green Iguanas Conservation Project.? According to Mariam Roberson this week an egg hunt will be carried out along the Macal River with the intention of hatching more iguanas.

Each female carries between thirty to forty eggs and on average, only ten percent survive to adulthood in the wild. In a hatchery the results are closer to eighty percent. Roberson hopes that one day soon, a closed season during the mating and maturing period will protect Belize?s iguana population. A suggestion supported by former hunting enthusiasts.

Karla Vernon
?Do you still hunt it now??

John Alexander Watler
?No, we don?t hunt them, we preserve them because Monkey River is a protected area and it is one of the main tourist attractions of the south.?

Karla Vernon
?Does the rest of the community share your feeling that it?s a valuable resource??

John Alexander Watler
?Very, very much so. The whole attitude of the community has changed over the past, I would say fifteen years. When I first went down there in 1991 to work on the Monkey River Wildlife Sanctuary, the people were angry at me that I was going to stop them from hunt in their traditional hunting grounds. And I had to explain to them that if you take an iguana and tie it up in a tree and tomorrow you come and show tourists and you charge them seventy-five dollars, tomorrow you bring some more and charge them another seventy-five and you continue to make money off the iguana while it?s alive. If it?s dead you get five dollars for it and that?s it.?

Reporting for News Five, I am Karla Vernon.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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