Melissa Kaplan's
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Last updated January 1, 2014

Easter Igs

Compiled by Melissa Kaplan


Articles like the ones that follow have been appearing in the world press for years now, their appearance always coinciding with the Easter holiday.

Iguana Ban
San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1997

Nicaraguan authorities have banned the eating of the threatened green iguana, the main ingredient in a favorite Holy Week dish. Each year just before Lent, the reptiles are hunted in the wild and killed, to be cooked with vegetables and ground corn to make a dish called Indo Viejo ("Old Indian"). The ban is intended to prevent the slaughter of the iguana at the height of its reproductive cycle. Those caught eating them face a fine of $5.50 per iguana.

Stop eating those green iguanas
Reuters America Inc., February 5, 1997
MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan authorities have banned the eating of green iguanas, the main ingredient in favorite Holy Week dishes, a government official said on Wednesday.

The ban is in effect from Feb. 1 to April 30, covering Holy Week, during which Nicaraguans traditionally cook a soup-like dish called Indio Viejo (Old Indian), made with iguanas, vegetables and ground corn, and Pinol de Iguana, a form of breaded iguana.

The ban is intended to prevent the slaughter of the green iguana, known to science as Iguana iguana, in its reproductive cycle, said Milton Camacho, an official of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

People caught eating them during the ban face fines of 50 cordabas ($5.50) per iguana.

The green iguana, native to Central America, inhabits Nicaragua's riverbank forests. It is rated as threatened in Nicaragua and could easily become an endangered species if the ban is not observed, Camacho told Reuters.


Iguana eggs for sale in  market.

Iguana eggs for sale in Ciénega, Colombia, market. From Phenology, Growth and Survival of the Green Iguana, Iguana iguana, in Northern Colombia. Dennis M. Harris. In Iguanas of the World: Their Behavior, Ecology and Conservation.

As most iguana owners know, green iguanas are eaten throughout most of their range. For the most part, consumption is for food. In some areas, eating their flesh is considered potent "medicine", with the person deriving the iguana's strength after eating it. The eggs are considered a delicacy, and sold hard-boiled in markets.

From Exploitation of Iguanas in Central America:

Cultural differences exist in the methods of hunting, marketing and utilizing iguanas. In most major markets of Nicaraguan cities, live iguanas were displayed and sold in large numbers, but in the indoor market of Leon several vendors featured the dressed carcasses, and few or none of the live animals could be found for sale.

In the markets of southern Mexico and southwestern Guatemala a vendor sitting beside a heavy iron pot of several gallons capacity, suspended over a flame was a common sight. The pot contained an iguana stew consisting of chopped sections of the animals-sometimes an entire head, feet with claws, or pieces of body and tail with skin and spines. These chunks floated in a heavy brown broth. We did not determine whether the entrails had been removed. Some vendors were observed to be doing a brisk business, dispensing small servings of the stew on banana leaves or in gourds.

Servings cost the equivalent of $0.45 to $1.35 in U.S. currency; more than the food value would seem to justify. No doubt customers were induced to pay the high prices because of the supposed medicinal properties of the stew.

The mystique of medicinal value seems to be a major factor behind the trade in live iguanas and the stew made from them. Various human ailments and particularly impotence, are believed to be cured or relieved by the flesh (especially that of the spiny-tailed iguana). Hence the purchasers willingly pay much more for these lizards than they would for equivalent amounts of fish, poultry, pork or beef.

Some of the educated Latin Americans with whom we discussed iguanas seemed reluctant to express enthusiasm over their edible qualities, or even to admit having partaken of the flesh. They seemed to consider iguanas uncouth and ugly animals, hardly suitable fare for civilized folk, and better left to unsophisticated aborigines.

Scattered references suggest that in various cultures in Mexico, Central America and South America, iguanas have been an important food source since prehistoric times, and that some of the customs that we observed in the 1970's are based on long standing traditions. For example Pagden (1975:145) cited an early account of the Mayas in Yucatan (between 1549 and 1563), which described in some detail their use of iguanas. The account stated of iguanas that: they are ". . . a most remarkable and wholesome food. There are so many of them that they are a great assistance to everyone during Lent. The Indians fish for them with snares which they fasten in trees and in their holes. It is remarkable how they endure hunger for it often happens that they remain alive for twenty or thirty days after capture without eating a morsel and without becoming thin.


Easter is iguana soup time in Nicaragua
Reuters, April 21, 2000
MANAGUA (Reuters) -- Easter in Nicaragua: time to grab a big lizard and brew up some iguana stew.

Superstition, religion and popular tradition are the cultural ingredients that go into Nicaragua's iguana soup, loved for its supposed nutritive and aphrodisiac powers.

As Easter approaches, the Nicaraguan diet consists largely of iguanas, which grow to three feet in length, not including their tails, and are most often either cooked in a rice and vegetable soup called "sopa de garrobo" or made into "pinol," or paste.

"We eat these little animals at Easter Week because it's tradition," said Lilian Sevilla, who raises iguanas in Masaya, about 17 miles southeast of Managua.

She was surrounded in their tiny pen by some 500 of the scaly reptiles, oversized lizards found from Mexico to Panama and considered endangered in some areas. Green iguanas, in fact, enjoy federal protection in Nicaragua, but only from December 1 to March 31. After that, they are fair game.

In Masaya, Sevilla's lizards have grown accustomed to a human presence and may even look forward to seeing her. She serves them a daily ration of vegetable concentrate, a diet consumers believe ensures the meat is healthy and wholesome.

As the holiday approaches, the reptiles will be sold for anywhere from $1.50 to $10 each.

Alternative to red meat
Iguanas are a protected species in many countries, but Nicaragua's ban on hunting and eating them during the winter months is largely symbolic.

Leonardo Chavez, head of biodiversity at Managua's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, said the ministry liaised with police, peasants and environmental organizations to ensure the seasonal ban was enforced.

But if a farmer is caught with a basketful of lizards, they are simply released into the wild with no sanctions imposed. "Basically we seek to stop it and confiscate them (the iguanas)," Chavez told Reuters.

The Catholic Church's restrictions on eating red meat during Lent are one reason Nicaragua's typical holiday meal consists of reptiles.

Iguana paste is also a good strong remedy for common illnesses, said Mayci Rostran, a housewife who buys iguanas at the market for her family. "It's a typical Nicaraguan dish and everyone in Nicaragua eats it," she said.

In market stalls around the country, live iguanas are piled into bins, their legs and mouths bound. The females are swollen with eggs as their ovulation occurs from April to June.

"I like it because it keeps me strong," said Jose Martinez, a vendor at Managua's sprawling Mercado Oriental (Eastern Market), as he gulped down his bowl of soup.

Julia Villalta, owner of cafeteria "Julita" in the Central Market, affirmed that the soup is packed with vitamins and aphrodisiac qualities.

"This is the stuff that raises the dead," she said with a laugh. "Where two lie down, three will get up."


Paya Indian capturing an iguana.  Smithsonian Institution Images: Rio Platano, Honduras.

While it is understandable that many iguana keepers get upset at the idea of people eating iguanas, they need to keep in mind that people around the world eat different things. People keep as pets animals other people eat, or raise or hunt for food animals that others keep as pets or consider to be vermin or pests. While you may never eat your iguana, nor (knowingly) eat iguana if you travel to Central America, keep in mind that there are those at home and elsewhere in the world who feel similarly about your choice in food animals.

Fitch, Henry S., Robert W. Henderson, David M. Hillis. 1988. Exploitation of Iguanas in Central America. In, Iguanas of the World: Their Behavior, Ecology and Conservation, Gordon M. Burghardt and A. Stanley Rand, editors. Noyes Publishing, Park Ridge NJ.397-417

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