By Michael Cancela-Kieffer
Green iguana, slider turtles and the world's largest rodent, capybara: it's not a trip to the zoo. It's what's for traditional Easter dinner in Colombia.
"This is the season we have them all coming in," said nutritionist Carolina Rangel, at a center for confiscated animals in the Colombian capital. She showed AFP about 30 confiscated "outlawed" slider turtles, common here and in Venezuela, as well as a rogue green iguana officials picked up on a bus.
Sometimes problems crop up when the animals escape from their "caretakers" especially in the busy Easter season; many Colombians travel for hours on intercity buses to spend the holiday with family and prepare special meals.
"People bring them in (from far-flung provinces) secretly, even stashed in suitcases so they can eat them with relatives, or sell them at open-air markets," said local environmental official Andres Alvarez, a veterinarian.
Colombia has wildly varied geography, with tropical Pacific and Caribbean coasts; cooler Andean mountain climes and a huge range of plant and animal life that thrive, sometimes in relative isolation.
These recipes based on local animals -- instead of imported ones -- have close ties to the northern and northwestern parts of the country.
They are often served up in the age-old recipes of indigenous peoples descended from migrants who came from eastern Asia into North and South America thousands of years ago.
Among the mouthwatering seasonal treats: turtles' eggs omelettes; iguana soup; cayman or turtle stew, which is served up with coconut rice, fried yuca, all washed down with cold beer.
"Colombia's gastronomic wealth is a reflection of the country's biodiversity," the world's second greatest after Brazil, said anthropolgist Julian Estrada.
How the custom evolved of eating these meals at this time -- the Christian celebration of Easter -- is not so clear. But people who lived along local rivers in what is modern-day Colombia ate all of these animals before the Spanish colonial era started in the 15th century, anthropologists say. More....