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An iguana park is a specially-designated park where endangered iguanas are protected and allowed to roam free. Two well-known iguana parks are located in Costa Rica, Central America, and Ecuador, South America. Though they both have iguanas as the main attractions, one park raises them to protect them from extinction while the other uses them primarily for tourism purposes.
The Pro Iguana Verde Foundation started an iguana park in Costa Rica in order to protect the endangered species. Iguanas had been hunted to the edge of extinction despite government bans. Part of the reason for the lack of enforcement is that the iguana is prized as a delicious meat in Costa Rica. It is known locally as "pollo de palo", or "chicken of the trees."
German biologist Dr. Dagmar Werner, the founder of the Pro Iguana Verde Foundation, began her work in hopes that local farmers would turn to iguana farming rather than raising cattle. Cattle, whose hooves tear up what's left of the forest floor after slash-and-burn ranchers have cleared the rainforest for their fields, are more dangerous to the rainforest than iguanas, who live in and off the trees. The Pro Iguana Verde Foundation breeds iguanas at its park and reintroduces them into the rainforest.
As of the Foundation's founding, thousands of iguanas have been released into the wild. Some of them are hunted and sold as meat, while others are allowed to breed and help restore the local population. The park also brings in revenue as a tourist attraction. There is an on-site restaurant where visitors can get a taste of iguana meat. Tourists can also go on hikes through the forest or on rappelling tours through the forest canopy.
In Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Parque de Simon Bolivar, or Simon Bolivar Park, is known as "Iguana Park" by the locals. Iguanas roam free on a plaza overlooked by a statue of former Venezuelan political leader Simon Bolivar and park benches. Children are commonly seen pulling the iguanas' tails, but the animals are used to such rough handling and seldom bite.
Like Costa Rica's Iguana Park, Simon Bolivar Park was conceived as a way to improve the country's economy and bring money to the formerly rough city of Guayaquil. Maintaining the Iguana park is part of one of the largest renovations in the city's history. In addition to an army of street sweepers that keep the city's parks clean, a worker comes to the park every day with a cart of fruit and feeds the iguanas.
The iguanas of Simon Bolivar Park are not hunted or sold as food. Instead, they provide entertainment for tourists and locals who enjoy interacting with animals usually only seen in the wild. Though there are numerous "don't feed the iguana" signs posted, visitors often ignore them. The animals typically will rest in trees.