You’re iguana love the new reptile garden at the Chennai snake park
Software engineer Sathish, 28, has been fascinated by iguanas since he was a child and first watched Godzilla (the 1998 sci-fi film about a giant mutant marine iguana). So when the Chennai Snake Park inaugurated its iguana garden on January 31, he had to go.
“I earlier saw a live iguana at the Madras Crocodile Bank but this was totally different. There was no barrier between us,” Sathish says.
The new iguana garden is a glass enclosure with a roof of latticed metal. Inside are rocks, trees and artificial water bodies that aim to simulate the natural environment of these reptiles from South and Central America.
Visitors walk through the glass enclosure, amid the greenery, and are requested not to touch the large, friendly creatures, but the reptiles are so close, they’re certainly within touching distance.
“The iguanas were so calm. They barely react to the human presence,” Sathish says.
That’s what park director R Rajarathinam likes to hear. The idea of creating an iguana garden within the snake park was to try and make people less apprehensive and afraid of these reptiles.
When the park shut for eight months in 2020, amid Covid-19 restrictions, it gave Rajarathinam and his colleagues the opportunity to rethink parts of the design.
Earlier, like the other reptiles, the iguanas had been kept in glass enclosures. The redesign uses an open space and open layout and invites visitors to view the reptiles up close, and even touch and feed them under supervision.
The park chose the iguanas for this open-plan garden because they are “fairly friendly with humans, can remember their masters and can even be toilet trained. This is important as that means it is both safe for humans and it is the type of animal that is not disturbed by human presence,” says SR Ganesh, a senior herpetologist at the park.
There are 15 iguanas at the park, ranging in age from one to nine years. However, because they want the animals to remain as close to their natural behaviour as possible, the park authorities do not humanise them by naming them or petting them, Ganesh says.
Anusha NS, 30, an HR executive, was among the visitors who fed one, under supervision. She’d always been averse to chameleons, which iguanas resemble, she says. “But this was really exciting and fun. I liked how friendly and calm they were. One even ate some spinach from my three-year old daughter’s hand.”