I’ve been following a Facebook page and am not too pleased with what I saw shared there (http://bit.ly/2KqcVKo). In North Port, there was a good-sized lizard discovered on someone’s porch; it apparently broke through the screen. It’s surmised to be someone’s lost pet, but meanwhile it’s loose, out and about. I’ve left a message into FWC to ask how they deal with this stuff. Meanwhile, then someone added to the string of remarks sharing a pic of a lizard (perhaps an iguana?), saying they’re seen along some water’s edge in North Port. I know the person who posted that, so I sent a message asking where they were and that we need to try and get them trapped, outta here! I know you’re tuned into the natural world and wondered what you know about these things, how they’re dealt with, and what can we be doing. There’s such naivete in our area about these critters; they’re not taken seriously. We know how they can wreak havoc on our native species. I wish all exotics would be banned from being a pet because as we well know, they do get out. Look back to the Hurricane Andrew and the pythons getting freed then. Thanks for listening!
— Edie Driest, North Port Friends of Wildlife
The lizard in question is a water monitor. While it’s certainly going to do some damage (it’s gonna eat something), the chances of it finding a mate and successfully reproducing are pretty tiny. The other lizards mentioned on the post are spiny-tailed iguanas, which were brought to Gasparilla Island many years ago and have spread to the mainland. We’ve been seeing them off island for at least 15 years.
While I’m certainly concerned about the ecological damage that large exotic reptiles can do, I have to disagree with the notion of an outright ban. You may not be aware of it, but I am a long-term owner of exotic reptiles — snakes, mostly, but I’ve kept lizards as well. I find them fascinating and rewarding pets. No, they don’t show affection the way cats and dogs do (I have those as well), but they provide a different type of fulfillment: A connection to the primal.
So, what do we do? Your assertion that some percentage of exotic pets get released or escape is absolute truth. It happens with reptiles, birds, fish and mammals. Perhaps the best way to handle it would be to require potential pet owners to undergo some level of education about their intended purchase: How to properly care for it and feed it, how large it will grow, and what kind of damage it can do if released. I could even be on board with some type of permit.
But … if we were to do something like that with reptiles, it would only be fair to do the same with perhaps the worst killer of native wildlife — one that makes billions of kills every year, has been credited with making species go extinct, and is kept by far more pet owners than any reptile. Of course, I’m talking about the common housecat.
I find it deeply hypocritical that many of the same people who get up in arms about exotic lizards or snakes eating wildlife think nothing of letting Fluffy outside to do whatever it is cats do. As you and I both know, what Fluffy does is kill things, mostly for the sport of it. Of course, most of what they kill is “just” rodents and a few birds. But every prey animal taken by a cat is one fewer for the wild predators.
It’s a real problem, and it’s one that is orders of magnitude greater than what the lizards and snakes are doing. Yes, pythons have really done a number on Everglades wildlife, and the number of mammals and wading birds has plummeted. But they’re constrained by climate to the southern third of Florida. Most of our non-native lizards are tropical and even Georgia winters are too frigid. They’re not getting far.
Meanwhile, cats — including feral colonies that are in many cases protected by law — are turned out to do their thing all over the world. It’s abuse of the environment on a mass scale, but many turn a blind eye because the perpetrators are just fuzzy-wuzzy little schnookums, yes they are.
I’ll tell you what I think: For the good of our native species, exotics need to be removed from the wild. Now, we’ll never get them all — which has been demonstrated in vivid Technicolor by the python debacle — but we can sure keep the numbers knocked low.
But, in the interest of being fair to everyone and everything, it’s got to be all the exotics. When it comes to protecting our wildlife, fur, feathers or scales shouldn’t matter.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.