The South American green iguana was once high on the list of threatened species. Now it has found a safe haven in an unlikely sanctuary: a five-star hotel where reptiles and humans co-exist in harmony and tourists visit simply to participate in their own, unique ‘iguana experience’. Hotel Iguana provides the perfect setting in which to observe the reptile in us all!
Guests arriving at the five-star InterContinental Hotel in Valencia, Venezuela, are met by the bell-boy, receptionist and, to their astonishment, often by impressive fearsome-looking reptiles just outside the lobby entrance.
Known for their powerful bulk and elaborate courtship rituals, these green iguanas have striking physical features — a crested back, a powerful tail and long claws. Guests soon discover that green iguanas are not really intimidating; they are in fact gentle vegetarians. Officially recognised as an iguana sanctuary, the hotel now promotes an unusual arrangement where reptiles and humans co-exist in relative harmony, with a little give and take on both sides.
Other Venezuelan hotels, beach cafes and even a major petro-chemical plant have been inspired by the projects’ success and are using their gardens to provide sanctuaries for iguanas and other wildlife as well.
In most of Latin America the green iguana has not fared so well. It is a threatened species persecuted for its valuable meat, eggs and skins. But now it has found a safe haven and a protector. Adolfo Houtmann is the hands-on reptile expert who is fast becoming known as “Mr Iguana” as he encourages other Venezuelans to respect and take care of iguanas.
The Intercontinental Iguana Project, which took off four years ago, has been a pioneering effort. Nearly 300 iguanas now roam freely in the hotel grounds, fed and tended by staff members who have gradually become enthusiastic about their care and well-being. There have been problems along the way; mysterious poisonings, intruding feline predators and swimming pool accidents, but Adolfo is always on hand to give advice and help. His enthusiasm for the reptiles is infectious.
Adolfo is also employed by a petrochemical plant, which has been inspired to declare its grounds an iguana sanctuary as well. These factory iguanas have their own problems to overcome — close shaves with heavy machinery and iguanas getting covered in soot after digging in piles of waste. Once again Adolfo comes to the rescue and the industrial reptiles are thriving. The success of these iguana projects proves that the most unlikely of places can become a wildlife refuge with just a little enthusiasm and know-how.