Many letters have been written to the editor about the inhumane treatment of Iguanas. Not a week goes by that I don’t get calls and emails from members of the public, including foreigners, stressing their horror in how Iguanas are mistreated in the process of being sold. Everyone wants to know what can be done to ban this trade, or at the minimum ease their suffering before being placed in cooking pots by ‘humans’. Stabroek News even carried a front-page picture of Iguanas tied up and hanging on poles along the roadside, waiting for buyers. The following two anecdotes confided to me describe the exasperation of two persons concerned with the way we treat our wildlife in Guyana. Both demonstrate the frustration felt by concerned individuals travelling down a road which appears to be going nowhere; they just don’t know where to turn for help.
Two Sundays ago, an animal lover was returning to Georgetown from the airport; it was beginning to get dark and she saw strings of Iguanas tied to a stand (where they had very likely been hanging all day in the sun). There was no one in sight; the house in front was locked up. Frightened to stop at a lonely location, she drove on harbouring regret for not stopping and doing something. But, she thought, “What could I have done?”
Last week, another animal lover taking a foreign friend to the airport, passed by an Iguana sales stand; Iguanas, their legs tied together, dangled at the end of a piece of twine. The foreigner become very upset and the rest of the trip to the airport was dedicated to how badly Guyanese treated their wildlife. After dropping his friend to the airport, Ben decided to take action. He stopped at the Iguana sales stall and spoke to the salespersons. He pleaded with them to be more humane and their response was just, “We have to make a living”. Ben realized the only way he could save these animals was to buy them. The salesmen demanded $9000 for one large Iguana and $6500 for a string of three small Iguanas. They would not budge a dollar and Benn shelled out $13,000 for two strings of small Iguanas. When Ben got home he tried to untie the twine but to no avail, he had to use a sharp knife. Four were able to crawl around the yard in which they were released, but two had the circulation in their legs completely cut off and the flesh seemed to be rotting away; both died that night. The other four were fed leaves and after a few days seemed to be nearly back to normal. They were released in Ben’s yard where there are many trees and he will be able to watch over them.
What is the message we want to send to our children and our tourists?
I’m aware of the argument that since Iguanas are going to be eaten we shouldn’t worry about how they are treated. Mahama Gandhi would not have agreed. He is often quoted with the words: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.
Do we want to be a compassionate, caring and great nation? If so, we need to define our wildlife policies and implement actions that protect all of our wildlife. A good starting point would be to develop an effective plan that protects our Iguanas. Their suffering is silent, their pain is tremendous. Conservation and economic agencies must work with the EPA Wildlife division to help ease such pain and suffering.