Kekchi and Mayan Culture
Iguana Catch & Release
PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY JEAN-PHILIPPE SOULÉ 1999
The Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) is the largest of the family (growing up to 6.5 feet) in Central America. It is found in low elevation forests, often in trees on the banks of rivers but occasionally on the ground. It feeds mostly on leaves and flowers but will also eat insects. When threatened, Iguanas will let themselves drop from trees into the river where they will escape underwater. Iguanas are one of the popular animals that visitors to Belize hope to observe and photograph. We asked our guide Pedro from Blue Creek to take us on his naturalist hunt. Twice I went, and twice I was amazed by this fantastic experience. If the following text and photos pique your curiosity, there's only one solution, go to Blue Creek and ask Pedro to guide you.
Throughout history, many people in Latin America have fed and still feed on iguanas. The ancient Mayas were believed to eat iguana meat regularly, the remains of which were found next to major excavation sites. Today Mayan people still feed on iguanas and their eggs in many places, but in Blue Creek where the population around the river is dense, guides like Pedro prefer to protect them and only do catch and release for enthusiastic visitors.
Catching Iguanas in Blue Creek, a conservation effort
When the trickle of money brought by limited tourism to small communities like Blue Creek becomes enough to provide a viable source of income, the locals won't need to go look for jobs in distant factories, plantations or logging companies. They will be able to stay in their village and do what they do best, preserve their lifestyles, environment and their children's future.
We took a walk down to the river with Pedro, his son Roberto and their 3 dogs. From the river, we looked at giant fig trees and could see many iguanas slowly climbing up and down or lazily sprawled on branches 60 feet off the ground. Roberto climbed a tree with great agility and shook a few branches. Iguanas jumped and were chased by the dogs (which were much slower) from which they escaped by diving into the river. There, Pedro was waiting with his diving mask. He disappeared under the surface and a few seconds later (on the 2nd or 3rd dive) re-appeared holding a small iguana. He handed if off to me and resumed his search for a bigger one.
A few minutes later after shaking a few more trees, a giant iguana dashed for the river leaving the dogs way behind. Pedro dove a few times and finally re-surfaced holding on to the long tail of the fighting iguana. Iguanas aren't aggressive by nature, they would never attack anybody but Pedro assures us, the first time you catch it, it fights and could bite hard. One needs to also be careful of the powerful tail that could easily lash the skin, and of the long claws used to climb trees. Once caught, by grabbing under the base of the tail with one hand and under the front legs with the other and lifted out of the water, the iguana stops fighting and suddenly becomes very tame. It seems to totally shut down in the face of danger. We then took turns holding the 30 lb beast and after series of photos and questions to our guide we released it back in the water. Amazingly, the iguana stayed in place for a while, observing all the movement around it. Then minutes later it disappeared underwater. Our second day iguana hunting with Pedro was as wonderful as the first time. If you visit Belize, don't miss it!
Pedro looking up ; First catch ; JP with small iguana ; 2nd catch ; 2nd catch 2 ; Head ; Luke ; JP and big iguana 1 ; JP and big iguana 2 ; Release ; Iguana 1 ; Iguana 2 ; Iguana 3
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