This Europe: Pot-bellied iguana wins beauty contest

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The Independent Online

There could be some controversy about the winner of a beauty contest in Rome at the weekend. No doubt the champion is dazzling, but from among several thousand exotic contestants, the winner has a mohican, a double chin, and, it has to be said, a slight pot belly.

There could be some controversy about the winner of a beauty contest in Rome at the weekend. No doubt the champion is dazzling, but from among several thousand exotic contestants, the winner has a mohican, a double chin, and, it has to be said, a slight pot belly.

Nevertheless Grisu seemed to be taking the glory and attention serenely, rolling his eyes in their sockets and winding his foot-long stripy tail round his owner's waist. The scaly orange iguana is the supreme champion of "Reptilia" – a three-day show of creatures whose usual forays into the limelight are confined to supporting roles in horror films. The show, judged by vets and biologists, was held in a Rome hotel, and drew about 15,000 visitors, according to the organiser, Dino Schiff, an Alitalia pilot who is also known as "the Chameleon Man".

"The idea is to give people a chance to come closer to these animals," he says. "We want people to understand they are not toys." But a primary aim of the show is to show the beauty of the creatures.

Snakes, striped like football socks, were coiled into ship knots; cases of iridescent blue butterflies flanked those of glazed ebony beetles; terrapins were stacked like precious stones. Turquoise chameleons perched on branches; frogs and scorpions glowed in indigos and greens. In a corner saved for the faint-hearted, baby rabbits, prairie dogs and ferrets were led around on leads. A hairy armadillo was curled tightly into a ball, and a pen held two tortoises as big as sheep.

An element of danger spiced up the exhibition. A skull and crossbones marked the cage of a tiny yellow-backed frog whose venom was traditionally used for the spear tips of arrows in South America.

Luca Mazzarella, owner of a more approachable iguana said: "He's like a puppy ... but my dog is scared of him. I had wanted one since I was very young but my mother said no. One day, I brought home a python instead, so my mum said: 'OK, you can have the iguana'!"

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