The practice of using reptiles, rabbits and other small animals as game prizes at carnivals has been increasing. Most of the New England states, New York, New Jersey. Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Iowa have outlawed this barbaric abuse. Maryland also has a law which allows permits, although we have heard that no permits are being issued for live baby iguanas as midway game prizes. Several other states, such as Illinois, Wisconsin and Alabama, outlaw the use of rabbits and dyed chicks, but have not caught up with the reptile craze. There are a growing number of local ordnances, especially in the states of Michigan and Indiana.
Memorial Day weekend, 2004, we got a first hand look at the practice. Even though the game vendors were told by Animal Control Officers that it was illegal in Virginia Beach, they continued most of the weekend and told people that they could not "give" them the iguana, but they could sell it for twenty-five cents. All Virginia currently allowed was a 50 dollar fine. Virginia will be another attempt to pass legislation to ban this abusive practice in January 2006. There is hope that North Carolina will also have a bill to outlaw this practice.
The game vendor told me that he took care of his animals and that they gave out care sheets. He handed me a care sheet which stated that up to 15% of the vegetarian lizard's diet should be ham, crickets and meal worms. It forgot to mention that they need UVB light.
Immediately after the carnival, winners started calling pet stores to take their iguanas. Only one store in town would take them. We left our names in the pet stores. What we found was heart breaking.
Binty came in the plastic carrier the carnival game vendor sent him home in. He was the size of a hatchling. The woman says she won five iguanas and four of them died. She told the store that she would release Binty into the wild (a misdemeanor in Virginia) if the store did not take him. This store did not sell iguanas, so they called us. Binty went to the veterinarian and was treated for worms. The lucky survivor is doing very well and growing, although he seems to hate crowds of people.
The carnival midway that provided the space for the game with the iguana prizes in Virginia Beach also had iguanas as prizes at the Fort Bragg, NC carnival, Howard County Fair in Maryland and the Prince William County Fair in Virginia. Two other midways had iguanas as prizes in South Boston and Chase City, VA and reports are that most of these iguanas died, probably a result caused by the October weather in Virginia. This abuse is covered under the Virginia Animal Code as inadequate shelter. Iguanas were also prizes in the Virginia Dogwood festival and the Wayne County NC Fair. Rabbits were prizes in other fairs in Virginia and North Carolina. In 2005, iguanas were prizes at the Winchester Apple Blossom Festival in Virginia and Onslow, Wayne and Stanly Counties and Biscoe in North Carolina.
Most of the complaints come from reptile owners and parents of 9-15 year old children who go to the fair with an older child or another adult. All of the winners that we have met or heard from are under 18 years of age. Most the carnival midways and game vendors with live animals as prizes are from Florida, a state with numerous complaints about feral iguanas.
When encountering these games, please write to the fair board or sponsor, such as the church, mall or fire house that contracted the carnival midway. In states, where this is already illegal, please speak with the local police department or make a complaint with the sheriff's office.
BINTY in May 2005