Baby Iguanas As Prizes?

We’ve all been to our local county fair, rode on the ferris wheel, sprayed the water in the clown’s mouth, maybe even won a big stuffed frog. But what’s happening in Ohio (and perhaps other places) is the wrong way to get young people interested in caring for wildlife. Naturally, as people walk by a booth and see what seems like an easy game to win and the prize is a real, live, baby iguana, they are so tempted. Yes, they’ll win a baby iguana! This is so very wrong and has to be banned, now!

Here’s the story by Keith Gisser, founder of Herps Alive!

The Ohio State Fair in Columbus featured a booth that offered live iguanas as prizes.

The Ohio State Fair in Columbus featured a booth that offered live iguanas as prizes.

It started as one of those non-funny jokes. A friend posted this photo on Facebook last Tuesday and tagged me, asking, “How soon until you start getting calls on these, Keith ?”  The answer turned out to be Sunday. That didn’t take long at all, did it.

An Ohio State Fair booth was offering baby iguanas as prizes. The needed skill? Not knowing how to care for a live animal. Let alone a tough-to-care-for properly green iguana (Iguana iguana). But knowing how to toss a Ping Pong ball into a fishbowl.

These days most places don’t even give away love goldfish. They give a coupon for the goldfish. That makes sense. Win. Think about if you really want the animal. Go to pet store. Buy proper equipment. Then flush him two weeks later (the expected life span of a goldfish is two weeks. I am quite sure of this).

But not so with iguanas. A young man won his and brought it back to Cleveland (a two-hour plus drive plus who knows how long carrying him around in a box while enjoying healthy far food like chocolate dipped bacon.  And a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. He was there with friends and mom and dad were a bit surprised. But they did the right thing. They went to the pet store, started reading the care sheet and realized this was way beyond what they were prepared for. They called around and eventually the Cleveland Zoo referred them to the Herps Alive Foundation. I was doing an outreach event at  a Petco store and arranged to pick him up.

Baby Iguana rescued by Herps Alive

The iguana in question.

Fortunately this little hatchling is pretty healthy and eating. With full spectrum light and heat he should live a long and happy life. We hope to find a permanent home for him soon.

You might be surprised that after my bad experience with reptile laws in Ohio, that I really think we need a law banning these guys (and all live animals) as prizes. Many states and localities ban this practice, but not our state. Time for a change. Or a change.org perhaps. Give ‘em a coupon. Or a stuffed iguana.


Keith GisserKeith Gisser runs the Ohio based, award-winning, nationally recognized interactive reptile and amphibian program Herps Alive! He has been a herpetology educator for over thirty years and currently maintains about 100 reptiles, amphibians and crocodilians, nearly all adoptions or rescues, about half of which are used in his programs.