Iguana Sanctuary a One-Man Show

by Susan Dearing

When Juan Garcia's son-in-law Ramon Medina brought home a half dozen iguanas he'd rescued, little did the 75-year-old Garcia know he'd be creating a sanctuary with iguanas now numbering more than 150.

With some of the larger reptiles reaching lengths of more than 6 feet and 70 lbs., Garcia now has the responsibility of securing almost 200 lbs. of fruits and vegetables a day. 

Each morning he goes to the central market scavenging food--papayas, lettuce and guavas being the iguana's favorite. Though almost any fruit or vegetable will do, he says the lizards also like "bolillos," a type of bread roll.

Juan tries to get the vendors to donate the old fruits and vegetables, and he is somewhat successful, and sometimes they'll even donate fresh produce. Many times, however, he has to pay out of his own pocket. As his brood grows, the search for food is constant, and he receives no support from any group or organization, or even the government, even though both black and green iguanas are protected by the state of Colima.

Please click on photos to enlarge

It's not just collecting the food, but he and his daughter, Olivia, spend 3 hours a day cutting up the produce. Feeding time is around noon, so you can imagine how every morning is spent. Photo left: Green iguanas come to the roof to feed on papaya and other fruits. Photo right: To give an idea of size, 2 of the larger males (though not the largest) walk between a chair and a bicycle sizing each other up.
As lunch time approaches, the iguanas start coming down from the Guamúchiles trees. This tree, which bears edible fruit of the same name, is a popular habitat for the iguanas. Señor Garcia  fills a bucket with cut up fruits and vegetables, climbs a ladder and tosses it on the roof of his shed. The iguanas race to get the tastiest morsels, and of course the bigger ones seem to have first pick. 
However, the smaller ones are able to get their fill, too, and the only aggression is between the large males, and that seems to be posturing while they size each other up. Indeed, the larger animals have a mouth so big your entire fist could fit in it, and beefy legs the size of the average human's arm. Fortunately they're vegetarians, though they are known to eat other foods such as chicken, rice and tortillas, according to Garcia.
Photo left: Daughter Olivia, neighbors, and Sr. Garcia watch iguanas at feeding time. Photo right: Patrick Massing climbs the ladder to watch the iguanas feed. Garcia says that he has problems with the Manzanillo city trash collectors, who shoot and kill the endangered species with pellet guns. Young kids use slingshots to kill the animals, too, just for the fun of it, he says. 
Another problem he's having to cope with is the routine dumping of cats in the neighborhood. The hungry feral cats are very agile, and are constantly eating the iguana hatchlings, that are no more than 5-8 in. in length. In driving around this Manzanillo neighborhood, near the power plant and the Cuyutlan lagoon, you can see signs posted by residents requesting that cats not be dumped, but it doesn't seem to be working.
Garcia tries to catch the newly-hatched iguanas, and keep them in an enclosure until they are bigger and can fend for themselves. This is a very hard, expensive and time-consuming problem for an elderly man. If anyone has an interest in helping out by contributing food, money or time, please e-mail. For information on how to arrange a tour to see the sanctuary first hand contact the author by clicking on the e-mail link. There's also a bunny on the premises, and no, he is not food for the iguanas.

For Susan Dearing's guidebook about Manzanillo and the state of Colima, click on this link.